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The cult

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The US market (S&P 500) is up 14% this year. It’s a blow-the-doors-off-mama stat.

When asked in a recent Guardian poll what stocks have done so far in 2024 half of Americans said returns have been negative. Losses.

Polls have also found a majority think unemployment is at a 50-year high. In fact, it’s near a half-century low.

Now 56% of people believe the economy’s in recession – which means at least six months of negative growth. But GDP is expanding. Wage growth exceeds price growth. Corporate profits have rebounded. Inflation is cooling.

In short, people have no clear idea of what’s going on. They just feel stuff. And these days they feel bad. Not just in America, here as well. Read the comments section. It’s a moanfest.

All this has implications for people with money, wealth, assets that they want to retain. The second half of 2024 could be a mess as political risk bubbles up and seizes Mr. Market by the shorts. The most salient point is nobody knows what will happen just before, during and after the coming US election. But there is probably no good outcome. You should be prepared. Details below.

Currently Canada ranks 58th in the world on a happiness scale for people under 30. For those over 60, our county is in 8th place. Ditto in America, where the corresponding numbers are 62 and 10. Are the wrinklies are delusional? Do the kiddos have a thin grasp of economic reality? Or is this all because houses cost too much and younger gens aren’t getting what they feel entitled to? Or maybe the Boomers stole all the wealth and left a world in ashes?

Whatever. The anti-establishment bias is expanding. And now it’s doing strange things to politics, with financial implications. These days a 77-year-old billionaire, a convicted felon who lost civil cases of sex abuse and fraud with a checkered business background and who paid off a porn star for sex he had when married to his third wife and has used bankruptcy laws and tax evasion to avoid financial obligations is the agent of change. A CNN poll just found that two-thirds of young voters see Trump as the guy who will improve their lives – by sticking a finger in the eye of the establishment.

But wait. He’s also the chosen one.

Trump’s a cult now. Facts don’t matter. Feelings do.

He’s taken over the Republican party. Rioters on January 6th have become ‘patriots’. He will pardon the criminals among them. There will be ‘a bloodbath’ if he doesn’t win this November, he tells disciples. He will avenge his persecutors, hunt down Joe Biden and his family and bring retribution to America. The Trump rhetoric has become more outlandish as he is embraced by conservatives, the wacky American Christian right, pacifists and protectionists plus a clutch of billionaires eager to see eternal tax cuts, fewer regs and brakes on the green agenda.

The message now is that Joe Biden’s economy is broken. (It’s not.) Joe Biden has dementia. (He doesn’t.) Trump could end the wars in 24 hours. (Nobody can.) Jesus wants Trump. (Seriously.) And we can drift backwards into a time of prosperous, comfortable whiteness.

This is not the kind of change you’d associate with 18-30 voters. But it’s now an existential threat to the ruling Democrats who counted on this boost to win the 2020 election (and, yes, Biden did win it).

Trump’s agenda, if in power again, revolves around trade sanctions, mass deportations of illegal entrants, extending tax cuts, gutting regulations and red tape, avenging political opponents, expanding executive power and exerting more control over monetary policy and the judiciary. If he wins, investors may do well since the stock market will be juiced on lower rates, fewer restrictions, tax breaks and ascending profitability. On the negative side will be more inflation and the gathering storm clouds of appeasement with Russia plus a dangerous retreat from NATO. Isolationist American policies in the past almost always led to a crisis.

If Trump loses, the economy stays on its current trajectory, but social upheaval may result. Seventy million people in the cult may vote for him. He did not accept losing in 2020. Why would he in 2024?

Between now and November, confusion – made worse by the growing dominance of platforms like Insta, TikTok and Telegram as well as the mainstream X and FB. This will be election foreplay during which the real cannot be separated from the AI-generated, and when foreign interference will roll out as never before. Russia, China, Iran and others want Trump elected.

What to do with your RRSP, tax-free account and non-reg portfolio?

Nothing. Not if you are currently diversified into ETFs with a balanced mix of growth and fixed-income assets, with a broad global exposure. Keep at least a quarter of your stuff denominated in US currency. Do not overdose on maple. Maximize tax shelters. Unless you have seven figures to play with, stay out of individual equities. Expect volatility and do not be freaked because of it. No need to go to cash, hide under the bed or anticipate nuclear winter.

Trump may come. He will certainly go. America will survive this cult. So will you.


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