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Black Coffee: Two Minutes to Midnight

It’s time to sit back, relax and enjoy a little joe …

Welcome to another rousing edition of Black Coffee, your off-beat weekly round-up of what’s been going on in the world of money and personal finance.

I hope everyone is enjoying the holidays! Let’s get right to it, shall we?

“Money is gold, nothing else.”

— JP Morgan

“You make most of your money in a bear market; you just don’t realize it at the time.”

— Shelby Cullom Davis

“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the new year in. A pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.”

— Bill Vaughan

Credits and Debits

Debit: I see Forbes has published its annual list of America’s wealthiest celebrities, and Star Wars creator George Lucas tops the list with a net worth of $5.4 billion, thanks to the 2012 sale of his Lucasfilm production company to Disney for $4.1 billion. Sadly, the list also unintentionally highlights the growing disparity between the richest and poorest Americans. You can thank the Fed for that.

Credit: The newest member of that list is 21 year-old Kylie Jenner, whose $900 million net worth has her on course to become the youngest billionaire ever. According to Forbes, Kylie Cosmetics found success by targeting her 168 million-plus social media followers. I’m not sure which is more shocking: Kylie’s $900 million net worth, or the fact that she has 168 million followers. No; I’m not bitter. Okay … maybe just a little.

Credit: For what it’s worth, the 500 richest people in the world had a combined $4.7 trillion in wealth as of last Friday’s stock market close, some $511 billion less than they had at the beginning of the year. I know what you’re thinking: How will those unfortunate people ever survive? I’m sure they’ll manage. Somehow.

Credit: Speaking of the stock market, the second longest bull market for stocks has finally come to an end — even if it was an artificial one from the get-go, thanks to a decade of central bank “money” printing. Now we’ll see just how bad it will get; the stock market bear is just getting started, so it could be a long way down from here.

Debit: The good news is, for the week, the S&P 500 managed to climb 2.9%, while the Dow rose 2.8% and the Nasdaq rallied 4%. Those were the first weekly gains for all three indices since the end of November. Even so, all three indices are still smarting from eye-watering losses for the month of December, with the S&P down 9.9%, the Dow off 9.7% and the Nasdaq down 10.2%. Somebody pass me a tissue. This guy too:

Credit: Despite the positive week for stocks, the big fear is that this week’s gains were nothing but a wicked bear trap. That’s because massive, one-day rallies are typically more characteristic of bear markets. Indeed, 11 of the 17 one-day percentage gains of 5% or more for the S&P 500 since 1970 occurred in the midst of the 2000-03 and 2007-09 market downturns. Uh oh.

Debit: The usual protection strategy employed by investors in bear markets for stocks is to increase their bond holdings. Unfortunately, early signs suggest a Plan B may be in order this time around because the traditional correlation between stocks and bonds has broken. Yes, I’ve warned several times here that such a correlation breakdown would be a potential sign of impending financial system failure.

Debit: So … is it possible that we may see a currency crisis sometime in 2019? Well, do wild bears do this? …

Debit: Total worldwide debt is now 320% of global GDP, which is 40% more than a decade ago. As a result, the world is running out of options. But as banker Satyajit Das warns, the debt will have to be paid, “one way or another.” Deleveraging and devaluations have been impractical and unworkable, respectively — which is why Das says that a de facto default in the form of a monetary reset will be the ultimate solution.

Credit: The truth is, the US dollar ceased being money after Nixon decoupled it from gold in 1971. Since then, the greenback has been a fiat currency that continues to maintain some semblance of value only because of the public’s blind faith in the state and its credit. At some point the math is going to catch up with reality, and that faith is going to be severely tested. Could it be as early as next year? Only time will tell.

By the Numbers

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the New Year’s holiday:

2 The number of years the Times Square ball drop failed to occur. (1942 and 1943 due to World War II light restrictions.)

3 The percentage of Americans who don’t plan to celebrate the new year.

12 The diameter, in feet, of the Times Square ball.

17 The percentage of emergency-room visits that are drug- or alcohol-related on New Year’s Eve; that’s the most of any holiday.

$17.88 This year’s average hourly rate for a babysitter on New Year’s Eve — that’s 20% higher than the rest of the year.

22 The percentage of Americans who admit to falling asleep before midnight.

24 The percentage of Americans who spend the night at home.

45 The percentage of Americans who make a New Year’s resolution. (3 in 4 will break their resolution in the first week.)

$189 The price of a Times Square Ball Drop party pass.

291 The number of sanitation workers required to clean up after the Times Square party.

Source: The Door County Pulse

The Question of the Week

Note: There is a poll embedded within this post, please visit the site to participate in this post's poll.

Last Week’s Poll Results

Do you expect the economy to be better or worse in 2019 than it was in 2018?

  • Worse (59%)
  • About the same. (30%)
  • Better (11%)

More than 1300 Len Penzo dot Com readers responded to this week’s poll and it turns out that almost 3 in 5 readers expect the economy to take a turn for the worse in 2019. Only 1 in 9 believe an improvement from the status quo is in the cards. I think 2019 will be a year of big changes for most Americans — and the beginning of the end for the “Almighty Dollar.” At least as we know it today.

Programming Note

In case you missed it, RD Blakeslee’s complete “Grandfather Says” archive can now be accessed via the menu at the top of my blog. I urge you to check them out when you get some free time. It’s quite a collection!

Useless News: Sugar Daddy

A 55 year old multi-millionaire was getting married to an unbelievably gorgeous woman who was just 22. So he decided to throw a grand wedding reception on the couple’s big day.

Of course, some of his friends were quite jealous of the millionaire’s 22 year old bride. So in a quiet moment, one of them took the millionaire aside and asked how an older guy like him ever managed to land such a beautiful young woman.

“Simple,” said the millionaire, “I faked my age.”

His friend was stunned. “How old did you say you were?” he asked.

“Well,” the millionaire replied, “I told her I was 89!”

(h/t: Cowpoke)

Other Useless News

Hey, while you’re here, please don’t forget to:

1. Click on that Like button in the sidebar to your right and become a fan of Len Penzo dot Com on Facebook!

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Letters, I Get Letters

Every week I feature the most interesting question or comment — assuming I get one, that is. And folks who are lucky enough to have the only question in the mailbag get their letter highlighted here whether it’s interesting or not! You can reach out to me at: [email protected]

After reading my article explaining why smart people aren’t impressed by people who drive luxury cars, a clearly offended person named Z left this comment:

“Every crappy Honda or Hyundai driver loves saying how much money they are saving blah blah blah. I drive a BMW because I go to 60 in 4.4 seconds. Do you have any idea the feeling?”

Nope; my lowly Honda only does 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds — but I can honestly say if I die tomorrow I’ll have no regrets about the 1.1 seconds I could have saved off the line at every stoplight.

If you enjoyed this, please forward it to your friends and family. I’m Len Penzo and I approved this message.

Photo Credit:Teresa Whitaker

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