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Input 01.02.2021

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”– Winston Churchill

Good afternoon

Since March 2020 all we are all  being challenged with new social patterns and digital behaviours – continuation of the 4th industrial revolution 4.0 – and limited travelling and personal meetings. Home office, distance learning, videocalls, e-commerce, initiated by the tech world of Silicon Valley , have taken  over and elements such as limited private invitations, outdoor activities – revival of the picnic  – as vital balancing elements have become the “new normal”.

https://finviz.com/ is a site  started  by Nik, my 16-year-old son, who created a smashing performance in 2020, being  part of the Reddit community WallStreetBets . I asked Nik what happened to NOKIA and BETHBATHBEYOND and through him I found the explanation:

In January 2021, New York markets had just fired up, and the investing world was tuning in for Thursday’s episode of the continuing drama: Legions of Robinhood Markets investors versus hedge-fund Goliaths. But within minutes, a shock wave invisible to the outside world rattled the mechanics of Wall Street — sending Robinhood rushing for more than $1 billion of additional cash. The stock market’s central clearing hub had demanded large sums of collateral from brokerages including Robinhood that for weeks had facilitated spectacular jumps in shares such as GameStop Corp.

The Silicon Valley venture with the wildly popular no-fee trading app came to a crossroads. It reined in the risk to itself by banning certain trades and unwinding client bets – igniting an outcry from customers and even U.S. political leaders. By that night, word was emerging that Robinhood had raised more than $1 billion from existing investors and drawn hundreds of millions more from bank credit lines to weather the storm.

When the history of this month’s stock mania is written, it may be a story of how retail traders set out from Reddit message boards to challenge Wall Street’s status quo — and ended up battering their beloved brokerage too. For weeks, Robinhood, with a mission “to democratize finance for all,” has been their trading platform of choice as they inflicted billions of dollars of losses on hedge funds by sending stocks that those firms had shorted into the stratosphere — a sort-of populist crusade into the staid world of finance.

Those juniors, Nik included, are  probably also too young to remember that a couple of years ago, in another troubled time  (the GFC, Global Financial Crisis), we,the “old guard”, also went through our GME episode…back then it was called Volkswagen. Let’s go back in time. The year is 2008, the world is falling apart and demand for cars plummets … autos are filing for bankruptcy left and right, but VW, despite its debt load and lack of business prospects, manages to survive  a few  quarters and post better-than-expected earnings making its stock the best outperformer of the sector but also the best short candidate. Flagship Hedge Funds (HF) start smelling blood and initiate short position in a name supposedly poised for bankruptcy. In reality, PORSCHE, at the time a frequent but unrelated business partner, had decided to seek more voting rights and control of the VW board and embarked on a buying program a couple of years back. VW continued to inch up through 2006 and 2007, going from about €30 in 2005 to over €150 by 2007, seemingly absent any outside reason ….and as the stock continued to grind “inexplicably” in the midst of the GFC, shorts intensified to balloon to 12% of outstanding shares (yes, I know it sounds ridiculous now). The trigger came on a Sunday night of October 2008 (it’s always on a Sunday night!) when Porsche disclosed owning 43% of VW and 32% via calls. Minor detail was that the German government also owned another 20% leaving the true available float to basically close to 0. When they woke up on Monday (don’t know if they slept though having had the entire Sunday to mull over their position), shortsellers caught off guard by this new supply/demand imbalance had no choice but to cover. VW rocketed to €900 in a matter of days, becoming the world largest market cap almost overnight (300b at the time, it also sound ridiculous now) with veteran HFs losing some $30b in the process. At a time when autos were at the brink of extinction, Porsche had effectively made more money trading stocks than selling cars. We are not talking about a forgotten video-games mall name that a crowd of retail day-traders decided to magically bring back to life. VW was THE jewel of the German crown, a 17% percent weight in the DAX (the equivalent of AAPL, MSFT, AMZN and FB combined in today’s SPX). Ask any market participant what he was doing the day of the VW infinity-squeeze … he will tell you without blinking. And then? Once the last short got covered, , the stock retreated back to its 2008-fundamental reality, lost 90% of its value ….and never really recovered. Today where TESLA’s market cap did exceed the peer as contrast – TESLA trades at 1200times earnings & zero dividends, VOLKSWAGEN at 12times and 2.7% dividend yield.

During my studies I was tought: «When interest rates are low, individuals and businesses tend to demand more loans. Each bank loan increases the money supply in a fractional reserve banking system. According to the quantity theory of money, a growing money supply increases inflation. Thus,low interest rates end to result in more inflation».

A new theory of interest rates, the Neo-Fisherian theory, predicts a low inflation rate due to a central bank’s low interest rate. After several years of near-zero interest rate policies and low and even negative inflation rates in the Eurozone and in the US, this theory gained momentum in academic circles. Indeed, central banks have had difficulty meeting  their inflation targets. In 2021, central banks will maintain   their ultra-loose monetary policies, even as  the global economy is expected to accelerate away from last year’s coronavirus-inflicted recession. In Bloomberg’s quarterly review of monetary policy, which  covers 90% of the global  economy, no major Western central bank is expected to hike interest rates this year. Only the ECB increased its emergency bond-buying program to 1.85 trillion euros ($2.3 trillion) in December and extended it through March 2022. The 500 billioneuro boost won broad backing in the Governing Council only because President Christine Lagarde conceded that not all of that amount necessarily needed to be spent.

Best wishes for a good, new and healthy week

Bjoern