Thursday, March 9, 2023

“You are listening to either an economic illiterate or a silver-tongued demagogue.” - Warren Buffett

From the Desk of Joe Rollins

The above phrase was an excerpt from Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders related to the 2022 year. Basically, what he is referring to is that the economics of his buyback program are correct and the Biden administration and other opponents of it have misunderstood them. What is shocking about this is that Warren Buffett has been a Democrat his entire life. He was a huge supporter of Hillary Clinton and has elected not to criticize Washington in the past. I guess all of that has changed and I will explain.
Joe with the Guest of Honor/expectant mother Elizabeth Flores
I have a lot of things I find interesting to discuss in this posting. The major headline in Barron’s recently was “What everyone got wrong about the economy and the ominous implications for the Fed.” I have been posting for the last year and a half that things were never as bad as they seemed and certainly were not as bad as the media led you to believe. I think we can now reflect on why the so-called experts got it wrong.

I also want to explain the economy and why it continues to be stronger than anticipated by virtually everyone. I also want to go through the numbers and tell you exactly how much each segment of the population pays in income tax. You would believe from the rhetoric of the administration that the rich do not pay their fair share and I can give you the exact numbers that prove to you that they do. I also want to explain why you should not be concerned about the debt limit or Taiwan. Most important of all, I have a solution that could have prevented the Ukrainian War from even getting started.
Client Stephanie King’s love of horses is more than just a hobby!
Before covering all of those terribly interesting subjects, I have to report on the stock market for the month of February 2023. Basically, this month was down a little from the incredibly hot January we had recently. Interestingly though, virtually all the growth segments of the markets were higher than the value components. That is an unusual turnaround where growth lost less than value during February. The strongest segments of the market were the small-cap growth stocks, which is a good sign. Usually, the small-cap growth stocks are the ones that will rally first if a market increase in forthcoming.

For the month of February 2023, the Standard and Poor’s 500 stock index was down 2.4%, but was still up 3.7% for the year then ended. Just for comparison, the 10-year return on this index was an annual increase of 12.2% even with the horrible year of 2022 included. The NASDAQ Composite stock index was down 1% for February but was up 9.6% for the year 2023. Its 10-year returns are 14.9% annually. The Dow Jones Industrial Average stock index was down 3.9% for January and is down 1.1% for the year 2023. Once again, its 10-year returns reflect an annual gain of 11.3%.

Bond funds are getting hit historically hard since the increase in interest rates continues to rise. The Bloomberg Barclays Aggregate bond index was down 2.6% for the month of February and is up 0.6% for the year 2023. Its 10-year returns are 1.1% annualized. As you can clearly see, bonds continue to be underperformers of the markets, and with interest rates likely to go higher, that will most likely impact bond funds negatively. Why anyone would want to buy bonds with interest rates rising is beyond my comprehension.
Josh introducing Ava to some greens she might actually enjoy
During the President’s State of the Union Address, he focused some of the speech on the negative impacts of companies buying back their own stocks. One of the points that he emphasized was that the oil and gas companies bought back stock rather than using the money to invest in production to keep gas prices lower. It almost seemed to be comic relief that the President was criticizing the oil companies after all he has done to limit oil exportation and production in the United States. However, he could not resist criticizing them for not investing more in future production even given the enormous restrictions that he has imposed to limit their growth. Clearly, he does not understand oil economics.

Basically, what the President was proposing was that he would quadruple the tax on corporate buybacks and encourage long-term investments. There is currently a 1% tax on buybacks, and he is proposing a 4% new tax to limit this repurchasing. In Warren Buffett’s quote above, he is saying that if you do not understand the economic positive implications of stock buybacks, you are either an economic illiterate or a silver-tongued demagogue. Unless I am reading that incorrectly, Warren Buffett is calling the President those exact names.
Robby and the lovely Caroline all gussied up for the
Daddy Daughter CKS Dance
I too have wondered why politicians criticize buybacks. If you think about it in its truest form, the people selling the stock back to the company must pay tax on that transaction. The company that is buying back the stock does not get to deduct the cost of the buyback. So, for revenue going to the Federal Government, it is a win-win. They collect the income taxes on the person who is selling the stock back, but the corporation does not get to deduct the cost of that buyback.

I would think that any reasonable politician after reviewing the economic effects of the buyback would agree with Warren Buffett that they do not harm shareholders and do not enrich the chief executive officers. What is incredibly interesting about this statement by Warren Buffett is that he appears to be openly criticizing the President and the party for which he has been a lifelong voter. I am not sure what that means for the political future, but rarely do you see Warren Buffetf saying anything political and certainly nothing politically negative.

I have asserted in these posts all along that I thought the media and Wall Street in general were overexaggerating the economic effects of the current economy. I wrote that there will be no recession in 2022 and still believe there will not likely be a recession in 2023 even though investors were being bombarded with statements to the contrary. I have gone back and reviewed some of the information I have previously written and came across the following fact that seem to be relevant.
DeNay, Alexis, and Lauren dressed in pink to celebrate the upcoming arrival of baby Penelope
In March 2022, Goldman Sachs forecasted that there would be a 20% to 35% of an economic contraction within 12 months. One of the most respected CEOs in America is the CEO of J. P. Morgan Chase, Mr. Jamie Dimon. In June, he was shouting to all the news outlets that the U. S. was in store for an “economic hurricane.” I guess he was wrong about that also. Even Bank of America predicted a mild recession would hit before the end of the year of 2022. To double up on this policy, the Federal forecast for economic growth for the year 2022 was going to be a meager 0.2% for the entire year. All these so-called experts in the field of economic forecasting were absolutely just “slam dunk” wrong. Not one of the predictions above came true and everyone in fact suffered a price.

It is almost a foregone conclusion that if you keep pounding the public with this negative economic forecast, sooner or later the public will begin to believe it. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy when those times come. If the public believes that recession is on the way, almost immediately they will start cutting back on employees, new construction and virtually everywhere else they can cut so that they can weather the recession that was coming. But what happened when the people realized that these predictions were false? Did you see even one of these so-called experts above come back with a correction of their projection? Not even one. Even a broken clock is correct twice a day.
Clients Wyatt and Beverly Foster enjoying the daffodils at Gibbs Garden
The Wall Street Journal said that, “The depressing outlook dragged down consumer sentiment and convinced roughly three-quarters of Americans by late fall that the country was already in recession.” Think through that statement for just a second. Three-quarters of Americans believed, due to the media’s reflection on the economy, that we were already in recession last fall, yet we are not even in recession now, five months later.

Many of the major financial publications are trying to explain why the economy has not fallen into recession yet. The biggest reason they quote is that the consumer continues to hold up the economy. I am not exactly sure as to why they find this concept so hard to understand. When you have 3.4% unemployment, that means virtually everyone that wants a job is working. Even the lowest-paid person still has to buy groceries, gasoline and various other consumables.

Each of those purchases by the lower-paid people produces Gross Domestic Product. When the lowest-paid person buys goods at the grocery store, the grocery store pays its employees, an electric bill and buys more products to sell. It is said that the velocity of money is seven times, which means it has been spent seven times before it has finally returned to the Federal Reserve. If everyone is working and everyone is consuming, why would these so-called expert economists not realize that you cannot fall into recession when the labor market is so strong?
Jose realizing that there is no chance of the
packages containing a PlayStation 5
The Federal Reserve has been surprised that their unprecedented increases in interest rates have not slowed down the economy dramatically. They thought that increasing interest rates eight times over the last year, and likely another time this March, would have dramatically slowed down the economy, but it has not. There are many reasons why the economy has not slowed but the overwhelming evidence is that a great many Americans are insulated from these rate increases. Back in 2008, most homeowners had adjustable mortgages. Now only 10% of homeowners have adjustable mortgages, and the vast majority of Americans have locked in low interest rates, so these increases have little or no effect on them.

It is true that higher interest rates have slowed the purchasing of new residences by the American people, but this is a short-term effect. As I explain to anyone who wants to purchase a home, if you are waiting for interest rates to come down, you are clearly making a mistake. By waiting, you have allowed the cost of housing to go up due to inflation and you are much better off biting the bullet and pay the higher rates with the hopes of refinancing in the future. Staying another year in an apartment where you are paying rent creates no economic benefit to you in any way.
Lauren and Mia thinking Friday lunches at Ansley Golf Club should become a regular occurrence
The biggest obstacle that the Federal Reserve cannot overcome is that many Americans continue to spend their savings to keep their lifestyle at a high level. We are only a couple of years removed from the enormous cash the government transferred to individuals and as every report indicates there is still over $5 trillion in money market accounts that consumers are pulling down to go out to restaurants, make purchases and even take trips.

History has indicated that if you increase interest rates, eventually you will throw the country into recession and therefore slow inflation. As I commented in the last posting, do you really think that the Federal Reserve is willing to destroy the economy to improve it? Given that this year is an election year, and we are only one and a half years away from a new Presidential election, I do not believe that the Federal Reserve has any desire to further hurt the U. S. economy.

What is even more baffling in this wacky U. S. economy is that the Atlanta Federal Reserve is forecasting GDP for this first quarter to be 2.0% positive. Since we are approaching the end of the quarter and the Atlanta Federal Reserve has been closer to right than anyone else regarding projecting the economy, it must be a huge let-down to the Federal Reserve that given all their extraordinary rate increases the economy continues to be positive and the employment market continues to be fully employed. Every employer I know is still seeking more employees to hire.
Erik, Danielle and Robby just excited to be out of the office!
One of the most favored phrases by politicians that you hear virtually every day is, “Make the rich pay their fair share.” I guess the politicians have never bothered to look up the correct information, otherwise they would not use that phrase so often. The facts indicate almost exactly the opposite.

Using the Internal Revenue Service’s own records, it indicated for the year 2020 that the top 1% of earners paid 42.3% of this country’s income taxes. That is a two-decade high in the share of taxes that 1% of earners paid. What is even more interesting is that the 1% reported 22.2% of the adjusted gross income of all the tax returns in the United States, but they basically paid double the income tax as their earnings. You can make no other assumptions looking at these statistics than to understand that the income tax rates in America are highly progressive already, and do not need to be further increased since the 1% pays the vast majority of taxes.
Pinewood Derby Car Champion of the World – Reid Schultz
(ok, maybe not world but he sure is cute)
But if you look at the numbers a little closer, the 1%, which reflects income above $550,000, had an average income tax rate of 26%. Those making more than $220,000 but less than $550,000, paid a tax rate of 17.5%. If you look at the next grouping between $220,000 and $150,000, the tax rate is 13.1%. Above $85,000 is 9.5%, above $42,000 is 6.5% and the bottom 50% of the taxpayers whose income was below $42,000 paid an average rate of 3.1% income taxes. I am not sure exactly how you can get a clearer definition of a progressive rate structure than these numbers indicate. These numbers do not indicate any social security tax, excise tax or fuel tax. This just solely reflects income tax. I hope that once and for all we could stop this argument that the wealthy do not pay their fair share.

I have been confronted by clients in recent months related to the fact that the Federal Reserve is now in excess of their federal debt limit. Some clients have expressed outrage that there might be a shutdown of government and we will default on our Treasury Bonds which are held around the world. I am not sure exactly why these clients are concerned about this situation since it is clearly academic and certainly not troublesome.

Let me give you an example of why this is not a problem. Imagine if you, as an individual, went through a troubling financial time and maxed out all your credit cards and did not have enough income coming in to fund your lifestyle, pay all those credit cards and you are facing ultimate default on all. But wait, due to the magic you have you can go down to the basement and print some new money which can then be used to pay off all your debts. Magic has been done, and even though you are above all your debt limits, you were able to pay off and satisfy all your creditors.
Cutest sister-in-laws - Carter and Ava Rollins
That is exactly where the United States stands today. Even though they do not have the congressional power to borrow more money to pay off their debts, they just conveniently go down into the basement and print more dollars and use that to satisfy them. You should never be concerned with these types of political shenanigans, since as long as the United States has the capacity to print money, it will do so when it is in danger of a credit default.

I have used this example many times before, but it bears repeating. People were always bewildered by the fact that Nazi Germany could fight a war around the world even though this county was a relatively small industrial power at the time. Basically, how they financed the war was to print more money and use that money to fund the war. It was believed that near the end of the war, their money had become so worthless that they were having to pay their soldiers daily because the value of the money could not keep up with the cost of inflation.
Proud soon-to-be parents Jose and Elizabeth – Congratulations!
A good example today is Argentina, which reports inflation exceeding 100% annualized. Yes, there is great danger to printing money to pay off debts. But due to the overall strength of the United States economy, the printing of several billion dollars of new money will have minimal effect on the currency.

I am always fascinated by clients that get concerned with the potential of China invading Taiwan, taking over Taiwan or, in recent days, providing military support to Russia in the Ukraine War. I think these fears are unfounded due to the economic effect of the relationship between China and the United States. China’s major export consumer is the United States. Why under any circumstances would they take the risk of overturning that economic relationship with relatively small ventures like taking over Taiwan or helping Russia with their war in Ukraine?

This does not have anything to do with the bullets that would be fired, it has everything to do with the economic effect. If China were to invade Taiwan today almost assuredly the United States would completely stop any type of economic relationship with China. It is extremely important for China to keep its population working and being paid to prevent backlash or violence from the population. If China did not have the United States as a consumer of its products, most assuredly there would be major unemployment and economic disaster to the Chinese population.
Ziming happy to be enjoying a meal outside of the office
– no fork and knife required
Think about the consequences of providing lethal military armaments to Russia. People are completely confused about Russia and its economic prowess. Russia after its breakup in 1989 is a relatively small country. The GDP of Russia is not as high as the GDP of Texas. It is a very small country economically, and certainly the economic consequences of this war are huge.

Think for a second of the generational long-term effects if it is true that Russia has lost 100,000 military troops in Ukraine. Firstly, you have to consider the demographics of how many babies will not be born in Russia due to the loss of manpower. Also, consider that these are the young men that provide workers for their industries and keep their economy moving. These men will no longer be available to do that work.
Some tailgating that even Ava could enjoy with Josh and Carter
Notwithstanding the fact that Ukraine has reduced Russia’s military capabilities by a significant amount and with Russia’s loss of manpower, the long-term economic effects for Russia are historic. Also, it is hard to fathom that if Russia does win the war in Ukraine, that would be a peaceful relationship. Does Putin himself even believe that due to the damage that Russia has done to that country, it could possibly be a country that they could govern?

Russia certainly does not have the manpower to maintain that country by military force and it is hard to fathom that the citizens of Ukraine would be loyal to the Russian government given the damage they have done. In Ukraine, you have entire cities that have been leveled and you have entire utility systems that are no longer functional. Who could possibly afford to rebuild that country other than the United States or China? Therefore it makes it even more improbable that Putin will be successful in his venture, given that even if he wins the war, he will not be able to govern the country. Putin has made a serious mistake.

As we move into spring in the United States, the economy continues to be strong, and employment continues to be even stronger. There has been a very strong start to the year with the economy and with the stock market. We are finally seeing some stabilization and growth and to this point there is certainly no sign of recession on the horizon. To create recession, the Federal Reserve would have to find a way to reduce the workforce by over 4 million people and force those people out of their jobs and into unemployment. So far, all we have seen are layoffs in the high-tech industries which puts highly skilled people back into the labor market who will quickly get brand-new jobs. I realize that the Federal Reserve is frustrated by their inability to create chaos in the economy, but that has more to do with the strength of the United States economy and less to do with the weakness of the rate increases.
New Rollins team member, Josh Portschy,
hitting the field with his brother
There will be a slowdown in the economy as we progress through the year 2023 by no other reason than the Federal Reserve will continue to force rates up to try to reduce the influence in the economy. However, it is my opinion that they are going to be unsuccessful in creating recession in those acts because the economy is just too strong at the current time to turn around so quickly.

As I mentioned in the last posting, the international markets are certainly strengthening, and we need to be invested. China has now reopened again from its shutdown from Covid-19 and Europe appears to have turned the corner, and there is unlikely to be recession in Europe. In fact, the economies around the world appear to be improving and I believe that bodes well for future stock increases.
Pi Kappa Phi’s newest member, Bailey Musciano-Howard
In the opening, I indicated that I have a solution that would have prevented the Russia-Ukraine War from even proceeding to begin with. It was rumored that Putin wanted direct access to the island of his territory in Crimea but had no access since Ukraine controlled all the roads between Russia and Ukraine. It seems to me that if Putin was a rational human being one of the ways that you could have satisfied both sides at the beginning of this war would have been to build a very nice four-lane superhighway, right down the middle of the highway to provide Russia direct access to Crimea. I know that it is a simple solution, but sometimes simple solutions have the potential to avoid hundreds and thousands of casualties and billions in properties destroyed.

One of the things I am currently seeing as a tax preparer is that people owe less income taxes than in the last few years. Due to the sharp correction in the stock market in 2022 we do not see the capital gains that taxpayers have been experiencing for years. What is interesting about this concept is that this is a direct hit on the revenue that the United States government receives. Roughly 45% of all the revenues that the United States government collects is from individual taxpayers. Since these taxpayers are paying less tax due to the market selloff in 2022, that will make the deficits worse than anticipated.

We are now 1.5 years away from a Presidential election and I have to think that sooner or later the Federal Reserve will indicate that they do not want to be a part of the political process and will announce that they are sticking with their current economic forecast and will wait and see what effect rate increases have on the economy before increasing again. Whenever that speech is given by Chairman Powell, where he concedes that rate increases will stay at current levels, you will see a dramatic increase in the value of the stock market. You cannot participate in that rally sitting in cash. I know people are excited that they can make 4% on a money market account now but they are oblivious to the fact that the stock market has already far exceeded that level through the first week in March.
Ziming and Josh taking a break from taxes
If you have an interest in coming down to visit with us, we look forward to seeing you. We are in the midst of tax season for our Firm, but I will have the time to sit down and review your portfolio, taxes, or anything else you might be interested in.

As always, the foregoing includes my opinions, assumptions, and forecasts. It is perfectly possible that I am wrong.

Best Regards,
Joe Rollins

All investments carry a risk of loss, including the possible loss of principal.  There is no assurance that any investment will be profitable.

This commentary contains forward-looking statements, which are provided to allow clients and potential clients the opportunity to understand our beliefs and opinions in respect of the future.  These statements are not guarantees, and undue reliance should not be placed on them.  Forward-looking statements necessarily involve known and unknown risks and uncertainties, which may cause actual results in future periods to differ materially from our expectations.  There can be no assurance that forward-looking statements will prove to be accurate, as actual results and future events could differ materially from those anticipated in such statements.

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