By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be 30,000 feet in the air – if my plane’s not delayed further.
While that doesn’t matter to you, it does to me… if we crash.
What’s relevant about my flying today is that this morning on my way to the airport, in the back of a cab in dead slow traffic, I started thinking about airplanes and stock-market crashes.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed on Thursday higher than it’s ever been. In fact, it’s now well over halfway to 30,000 feet. It can cruise along comfortably and keep rising from here, for sure.
What’s worrying me this morning, besides almost missing my flight, is that, to get the U.S. and global economies to liftoff speed, the Federal Reserve has spent almost $4 trillion. (I considered writing that number out here, with all those zeros for dramatic effect, but thought, This isn’t a funny piece I’m writing – it’s serious.) And globally, central bankers have spent another, maybe, $6 trillion.
And those are lowball estimates – no joking.
Now I’m going to tell you how much our global leaders are actually spending to keep our economies going. And I’m going to tell you what that means for the market – and our wallets…
And those are only the “on the record” numbers, on account of our being able to see them to count them to some degree. But the real numbers are probably closer (collectively) to somewhere between $16,000,000,000,000.00 and $20,000,000,000,000.00 (oops) when you consider the “off the record” “liquidity programs,” “infrastructure projects” and “government assistance programs” (some call it welfare) implemented to augment direct central bank money printing.
That’s a lot of “thrust” going down the runway.
What if it isn’t enough? What will happen if the U.S. economy stalls? What will happen if economies in Europe, Asia, and emerging and frontier markets start stalling? What if we start stalling while at the same time inflation, from all that printed money, rears its ugly head?
How safe are stocks here at this altitude?
So I get to the airport and have to check an oversized bag (that’s another $75), which necessitates me getting in line as the clock is ticking down on my departure time.
And the trying-to-be-friendly cute counter gal, who sees me perspiring, says, “Are you on a flight today?”
I looked at her and, because I wasn’t in a funny mood thinking about the market and global economies, replied, “No, I always come here to weigh my bags.”
Well, she didn’t think I was funny. So she gives me that “I can make you miss your flight if I want to look” and asks a question I’m sure is code for “Are you a terrorist?”
With a serious attitude she says, “You’re perspiring. You look nervous. Are you afraid of flying?”
“No,” I said, “I’m afraid of crashing.”
That didn’t help matters.
But, I guess she figured if I wasn’t going to crash the plane, I must not be a terrorist. So, to try and comfort a nervous flier, she says that stupid thing I’ve heard before, “You know, statistically, flying is much safer than driving – because your car can always stall out.”
I looked at her as if she was an idiot and said, “While that’s true, at least when my car stalls out I don’t fall 30,000 feet.”
And I smiled, as if to say, “I’m just kidding.”
At that point I think she was warming up to me.
Then, with a big smile, she asks me where I want to sit.
Although I wanted to say “next to you,” without missing a beat I said, “In the little black box please.”
She looked at me as if I had two heads and asked (yeah, she really asked this), “Why would you want to sit in the little black box?”
“Because,” I said, “whenever there’s a crash, that’s the only thing they ever find intact.”
And for good measure, because now she was laughing, I asked her, “What do they make that black box out of anyway, and why the hell don’t they make planes out of that stuff?”
She gave me her number… but, that’s another story.
Fast forward, past the TSA wannabe-FBI types (as if they could ever pass the IQ test), to me sitting down in the middle seat, believe it or not, between a married couple.
Their nonstop banter while I was wedging my way between them gave their status up. So I asked thoughtfully, “Would you two like to sit together?”
“No,” he said (no “thank you” or nothing). “She likes the aisle, and I like the window.” And they proceeded to keep talking over me.
Well, they’re about to close the door (hopefully all the way), so I’m going to have to e-mail this quick post to the publisher to have it over-edited and sent to you before they tell me to turn off all electronic devices.
But before I go… two things.
Actually, I only have time for one, so I’ll try and work them in together.
Because this is a long over-the-water flight and I don’t like the annoying couple on either side of me, I hope they both fall asleep so when we’re somewhere over the middle of the ocean I can shake them both vigorously and say in a terrified tone, “Hey, I guess now we’re going to find out if these seat cushions really do float!”
Like I said, I’m not afraid of this market flying.
I’m afraid of it crashing.