COMMERCIAL REAL ESTATE
How many restaurants, shops, malls, hotels, etc., won’t reopen in 2021? How many office buildings will remain vacant as employees work from home? How many commercial leases won’t be renewed? How many tenants walked away from their facility/business, never to return? Eventually, this could lead to a massive restructuring of commercial assets and could take years to unwind.
LOST TAX REVENUE
The long-term tax outlook for major cities is bleak. As employees work from home, they will no longer commute into the city. Tax revenues could plunge as companies and residents flee high tax states. Municipalities will be forced to raise taxes or slash services (probably both). Consequently, the exodus from states like California to low tax states like Texas will only make matters worse.
BANKRUPTCIES AND DEFAULTS
How many of the struggles mentioned above will result in bankruptcies and defaults? Hard to say, but I believe it will be significant. Going into the crisis, the personal savings rate was low. Millions of Americans didn’t have enough savings for even 3-months of expenses. When stimulus and employment benefits run out, I think there will be a reckoning, and we won’t know how bad until next year.
Currently, the markets are pricing in a V-shaped recovery. I am less optimistic for the reasons described throughout this report. One scenario I am considering is a K-shaped recovery. This occurs when people with assets (own stocks and real estate) get wealthier through asset inflation, while those without assets (the have-nots) struggle to find employment, lose skills, and become permanently unemployed. As a result, the wealth-gap widens and produces increased social and civil unrest.
A few weeks ago, SolarWinds – a major US information technology firm, was the subject of a cyberattack that spread to its clients, including the US government. Foreign hackers used it to spy on private companies like cybersecurity firm FireEye and other Government agencies (Homeland Security and Treasury Department). It was the largest cyber-attack in US history, according to experts.
The combination of supercomputers and artificial intelligence makes cyber-attacks a threat like never before. No longer is it a single hacker in a basement trying to breach a firewall. Today, supercomputers are doing the hacking – they don’t need to sleep, they don’t eat, and they don’t get paid. They work 24-hours a day, relentlessly probing systems for weakness.
An attack on the power system, electrical grid, oil refineries, etc., could cripple utilities and infrastructure. If the payment system goes down, no one would be able to use credit or debit cards. For that reason alone, it’s probably wise to have some cash on hand to pay for essentials in the event of an outage.
There is a lot of hope riding on the effectiveness of these vaccines. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are reported to be about 95% effective. What if, for some reason, they aren’t?
We’ve had some very smart people working on the flu vaccines for over 20-years. On average, the flu vaccine is only about 60% effective, and some years just 40%. To create and distribute a new vaccine that is 95% effective…in less than 12-months would be game-changing if it works. And perhaps that’s what this is, a major scientific breakthrough, I don’t know. But, until I see long-term data supporting this, I remain skeptical.
In summary, the global economy has recovered significantly from the collapse. The stimulus provided by governments was massive, but it is wearing off. If the vaccines prove effective and the economy reopens, we could see above-average growth next year. However, there are significant hurdles to overcome. If the vaccines are less effective and the lockdowns remain, I believe we are at risk of a double-dip recession.
Sentiment turned positive for precious metals in 2020 after the global pandemic. Fear and uncertainty will remain for the next several years. Governments are printing staggering amounts of money, and this will ultimately lead to inflation. Gold will benefit as currencies are devalued. Precious metals and commodities are entering a bull market that could last over a decade, in my opinion.
The only way I see gold NOT doing well in 2021 is if the vaccines prove 95% effective (as claimed), reach wide-spread adoption (at record pace), and completely eradicate the coronavirus. I think the odds of that happening are pretty low.
The Gold Cycle Indicator finished at 97. I’m still looking for a finish above 100 to establish a cycle breakout.