In Episode 110, we welcome author and market data expert, Dr. Bryan Taylor.
Meb begins by asking how Bryan built the massive financial database that is Global Financial Data. Bryan walks us through how the database developed over time.
The conversation soon turns to Bryan’s book, Debts, Defaults, Depression and Other Delightful Ditties from the Dismal Science. Bryan tells us this is actually the first of two books. It includes stories about the past that people might find interesting – some of the crazy things that have happened in the financial markets, as well as an inference about what that might mean for the future. The follow-up book will focus on a number of specific cases, from The East India Company, all the way up to some of Trump’s companies.
Next, Meb changes gears – there are a few contenders getting close to becoming the first $1T company. Meb uses this as a chance to look back at the first $1B company.
Bryan tells us that title goes to Standard Oil. He then walks us through its history, including its practice of pushing prices down to drive competitors into bankruptcy, the Sherman Anti-trust Act, the break-up of Standard Oil, and the effect on shareholders.
This conversation dovetails into a conversation about which company today – Apple, Amazon, Facebook, or Google – is more likely to face a threat from government oversight. Listen in to get Bryan’s thoughts.
The guys then get into inflation. It turns out, the 20th Century had the highest inflation ever. What might be in store for us in the 21st Century? Bryan and Meb discuss this, touching on various governments’ ability to pay debt, growth rates, Bryan’s red-flag metric (when the interest coverage ratio to GDP exceeds 5%), as well as the most likely path for US and global interest rates.
Meb then uses his recent trip to Greece as a springboard for a discussion about the future of the EU. Bryan tells us it’s an all-or-nothing situation. And the concern now isn’t over Greece, it’s over Italy. It might be the first country to drop out of the Euro. If so, it will face severe consequences in trying to be independent. Plus, it could have a domino effect, leading to other countries leaving and the entire system falling apart. He concludes by telling us that “at some point, the stresses are going to be so great that some of the countries (in the European Union) are eventually forced to leave.”
Next, Meb moves toward Asia. He brings up a quote from Bryan about the future market-cap of Asian stock markets (as the biggest in the world) and asks if this is a no-brainer “buy Asia” right now. Bryan gives us his thoughts but notes that Asia has lots of internal issues that need solving before they can challenge the US as the primary engine of returns going forward.
Next up is an interesting discussion of what investing used to be like, how it changed, and how it might change for us going forward. The conversation touches on investing in the 1800s, how World War I flipped everything on its head, and the current concern of nationalism.
There’s plenty more in this episode – the need to be conscious of how integrated global markets are these days… the historical period that most closely resembles today’s investing climate… what Bryan is working on now… And Bryan’s most memorable trade.
Get all the details in Episode 110.
In Episode 109, we welcome ETF and crypto expert, Matt Hougan.
After a quick, fun story about Matt’s first job…as a 9-foot tall seal mascot for a minor league baseball team…Meb asks about the state of the ETF industry – where we are today, and where we’re going.
Matt tells us that ETFs have become a dominant force in investing. Since the financial crisis, some $2 trillion of capital has flowed into ETFs. In comparison, the mutual fund industry has seen $0 inflows during that time. In terms of issues that are shaping ETFs and will continue to do so over the coming years, Matt points toward fee wars, distribution networks, and the growing reality that it’s getting harder for smaller companies to get a foothold within the ETF space. Overall, Matt believes the days of fastest ETF growth are in front of us.
Referencing back to the capital flows differential between ETFs and mutual funds since 2008, Meb asks if there will there be a Netflix/Blockbuster moment when the lion’s share of assets leaves mutual funds and flows into ETFs.
Matt believes the stream of asset migration will become a flood in the next bear market. He tells us the only thing that has kept mutual fund asset levels up is the bull market of the last decade. That’s created lots of embedded capital gains which many investors haven’t wanted to realize. Yet when a bear market finally hits… Matt believes we’ll see accelerated flows out of mutual funds when we suffer our next 20% market drop.
Next, Meb brings up something which Matt has tracked for since 2008 – the world’s lowest cost ETF portfolio. He started by taking the lowest-cost ETFs representing six major global asset classes. He was curious how much it would cost in order to get full global exposure. In 2008, the combined, blended fee to own the world was 16 basis points. Today, it’s down to just five basis points. Matt and Meb agree this is a great time to be an investor.
This bleeds into a discussion of direct index investing, which, Matt tell us, might be the next evolution of investing beyond ETFs. If you’re less familiar with direct index investing, it’s a way to own indexes, yet without paying a fund management fee, while enjoying the potential benefits of tax loss harvesting. This leads to an interesting discussion about implementing direct investing via robos, as well as the tradeoff between tracking risk and the potential for tax alpha.
The guys touch on a few more ETF ideas – broad concerns about the ETF market, active versus passive ETFs, and the use of artificial intelligence in replacing discretionary managers – but it’s not long before Meb switches the conversation to crypto.
Though ETFs are Matt’s first love, he’s long been interested in cryptocurrencies, so he was excited at the chance to join Bitwise, creator of the first currency index. Giving us an overview of the crypto world, Matt tells us “an index-based approach is the only sensible approach to the crypto market, because anyone who tells you they know what’s going to happen in crypto is probably lying to you.”
At Meb’s request, Matt then describes how to put together a crypto index. Matt tells us the goal is to capture the broad-base crypto market. There are 1,500 cryptos out there, but most of the market cap is concentrated in the top 10-15 currencies. There are many challenges to creating an index, including such basics as “how many Bitcoin are there?” (Do you the current number, or what the number will be x years in the future?) Matt goes into interesting detail for us.
What follows is a great conversation for any listener curious to learn more about the crypto world. You’ll hear about Matt’s ideas for other crypto indexes and ways to approach the market… how Meb got in hot water with crypto investors… what the future may be for crypto and its related technologies… the growing institutional interest… when we’ll see a crypto ETF… where crypto fits into a traditional asset allocation… the impact of government regulation… and why cryptos won’t go the way of the tulip bulb.
Finally, you’ll hear Matt’s answer to “if you had to buy one crypto and not touch it for 10 years, what would it be?” And of course, there’s Matt’s most memorable trade. This one lost him about 90%.
What are the details? Find out in Episode 109.