Chairman and Editor-in-chief, Forbes Media
Mr. Forbes writes "Fact and Comment." A widely respected economic prognosticator, he is the only writer to have won the highly prestigious Crystal Owl Award four times. The prize was formerly given by U.S. Steel Corporation to the financial journalist whose economic forecasts proved most accurate.
Porter and Buck welcome business leader and chairman of Forbes Media, Steve Forbes. They discuss why some Americans have lost the passion for free markets, what's happening on college campuses, and the enormous gap between productivity and stagnant wages. Steve demystifies the real relationship between gold and fiat paper currencies, how interest rate manipulation distorts financial markets, and the one thing that could finally trigger mass adoption of Bitcoin and other crypto-assets.
Porter reveals a misunderstood investment tool you need to learn about before you ever buy a single share of stock. It's the secret weapon at Stansberry Research that tells you exactly how much and when you'll get paid on your investment. Buck breaks down recent Russian "collusion confusion" in Washington, what it means for Trump, and how the role of Facebook in the conversation is potentially overblown.
A listener writes in with a first-hand story about financing in the agricultural sector, and how lending practices at John Deere (DE) could lead the 181-year old company down the same financial death spiral as General Electric (GE).
Announcer: Broadcasting from Baltimore, Maryland, and New York City, you're listening to the Stansberry Investor Hour.
Tune in each Thursday on iTunes for the latest episode of the Stansberry Investor Hour. Sign up for the free show archive at InvestorHour.com. Here are the hosts of your show, Buck Sexton and Porter Stansberry.
Buck Sexton: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to another episode of the Stansberry Investor Hour. I am nationally syndicated radio host Buck Sexton. And with me, as always, our fearless leader, Porter Stansberry. Mr. Porter.
Porter Stansberry: Hi, everybody. Glad to be back. Glad to be with you, Buck. Let's talk. We got some great things going on here. We got Steve Forbes joining us. He's pretty famous.
Buck Sexton: He is the editor-in-chief of Forbes magazine. And aside from financial publishing, Steve might be most well-known on the political front for his run at the presidential primaries in 1996 and 2000, advocating such ideas as a flat income tax, opting out of Social Security, and term limits. By the way, Steve's going to be speaking at the annual Stansberry conference at the Bellagio in Las Vegas this coming October, everybody. So we're glad he made some time in his schedule today to come on the podcast and let us know what he's up to right now.
I want to send some thanks to all the listeners who've been leaving feedback on the Stansberry Investor Hour iTunes and YouTube pages. Search for "Stansberry Investor Hour" and you'll find each episode, along with comments and discussion from listeners just like you. You can also join our free weekly e-mail list by going to InvestorHour.com and entering your e-mail.
All right. With all that stuff, Mr. Porter, you want to go first? You want me to tell you about how Russia is destroying the world with Facebook accounts?
Porter Stansberry: Yes. Let's talk about that. Because Facebook is really important to me. I feel like Facebook is the future of our country and we can't go on without it. [Rimshot sound].
Buck Sexton: So you have some spending issues here that people aren't really paying much attention to. You have some timing issues here that people aren't paying much attention to. You have a multi-billion-dollar multi-network media apparatus that has staked its entire credibility, whatever you believe that is –
Porter Stansberry: Zero.
Buck Sexton: – on there being a there there – yeah – with this whole Russia collusion thing.
Porter Stansberry: Russia collusion. So we really believe – I don't know. Maybe people do. You really believe that President Trump is an agent of the Russian Kremlin forces. Really?
Buck Sexton: What they seem to believe – and I know this because they run stories on it almost every night – is that the Trump campaign, at some level of seniority yet to be determined, was in cahoots – and I think that's as good a word to use here as "collusion" –
Porter Stansberry: I like "cahoots."
Buck Sexton: – in cahoots with the Russian government to try and turn the election from Hillary. And so what happened last week was you got this guy, Mueller, who's running the special counsel, and he has an indictment of 13 Russians, and people are pointing at this and they're saying, "See? This is real." In fact, Porter, there was an article in The Washington Post calling this Facebook intrusion into our election the biggest attack on America since 9/11.
Porter Stansberry:: Huh?
Buck Sexton: And that includes – oh yeah. Washington Post.
Porter Stansberry: [Laughs].
Buck Sexton: Biggest attack since 9/11. You have mass-casualty terror attacks that've happened at Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State's behest since 9/11 on US soil, but we don't even have to get into that. There's so much that's wrong with the way that people are viewing this whole thing. The moment that you dig beyond the surface – and I read through the 37-page indictment like five times. Once you dig a little bit, you find out that they are literally charging people, Porter, with information warfare. And that's the term that they use –
Porter Stansberry: Information warfare.
Buck Sexton: – for setting up – yeah. Which is not actually even a crime. That's a warfare issue, not a crime issue.
Porter Stansberry: So how do you charge someone with something that isn't a crime?
Buck Sexton: They're charging them under conspiracy to defraud the United States election committee? Election Commission, rather.
Porter Stansberry: What?
Buck Sexton: Yeah. The FEC. They're charging 'em with some other more Mickey-Mouse stuff that arecrimes, but usually wouldn't get this level of attention, things like identity theft and wire fraud for setting up bank accounts in the States. But this is one of these things where you look at this and there are some very important points to get out right away. First of all, in terms of how much this was effective or not – which is one of the unanswered questions of all this – you have: both campaigns together spent a couple of billion dollars over the course of the election. And you're looking at a campaign-specific Facebook spend of around $100,000 by the Russians. So when you look at the numbers, it's nothing.
When you look at the amount of the ads that were put in specifically for anti-Hillary, pro-Trump stuff, most – and this is from the head of Facebook advertising – most of the ads came after Trump won the election. So as a means of trying to throw the election to Trump, that seems like a pretty strange campaign. You wait till after the guy wins and you buy most of your ads then? A lot of the ads they bought then were anti-Trump.
See, the Russian goal here is to sow dissension and some degree of chaos and animus in the American political system, which is not new. They have been doing this for decades. It's just now they're doing it with sock puppets and trolls instead of buying off pro-peace newsletters in this country, setting up publications around the world. The KGB's been doing this for decades. Now it's the FSB and the Kremlin with Putin running the show. But people are getting way ahead of their skis on this one. And that's my rant.
Porter Stansberry: OK. Well, now that we've got that out of the way, I tell you: I never have liked politics, and somehow I have found a way to even be less interested in it lately. I just don't care. I don't care if the Russians are manipulating our election. Fine. Who cares? They're all crooks anyways. What's the difference?
Buck Sexton: Well, that's actually a very common refrain from a lot of Trump voters that I know. They say: The media in this country that pretends to be so scrupulous and full of integrity, for eight years of the Obama administration was effectively state-run media. And I could go into a long discourse, but I won't, because I don't want you to fall asleep during the podcast, about all the different ways that that's actually true, that they were taking their marching orders directly from the White House, that there were secret meetings with highly-placed journalists and execs all the time under the Obama administration.
Porter Stansberry: Yeah, I know. Exactly. Right. Again, none of this surprises me. None of this is new. You're telling me that the government controls the media? Really? I had no idea. You couldn't know that just by reading The Wall Street Journal, reading The New York Times, just looking at the way the articles are written, looking at how they're sourced? Of course. It's all propaganda.
And, by the way, you call it news if you happen to agree with it; you call it propaganda if you don't agree with it. But it's just all the same stuff.
Buck Sexton: True.
Porter Stansberry: Here's the problem, in my mind: It's not whether Hillary wins or Trump wins, or whoever the next jackass is who wins. The problem is that we shouldn't care who's in charge of the government because the government shouldn't matter in our country. America was supposedly the land of the free, right? Before 1930, the government made up less than 3% of GDP. The federal government did not play a role in the daily lives of the citizens. And why should it? The government should be the referee. But we've turned that on its head. Now instead of watching football players play the game, now every player is a referee. It makes no sense, right?
The government now makes up something – what? What's the total government spending as a percentage of GDP today? State, federal, local? It's probably close to 40%. How's that any different than communism or socialism, whatever your particular flavor of the day is? The problem is not who's leading our country. The problem is the outsize role the government plays on our economy and in our lives. It shouldn't be involved. You shouldn't care who was elected president.
A couple of little points about this. If you look back in American history, one of the things that we always did as a nation was that we didn't make heroes, saints, or villains out of our political leaders. They just didn't matter. So until – when was it? Until the early 1900s, we didn't have politicians on our money. Right? This was something that happened I think under Theodore Roosevelt. He started putting politicians on the money. This is after America had its first war of conquest, which was the Spanish-American War. So we turned into an empire, and next thing you know we're putting people, human beings, on our money, creating demigods out of our political leaders. These are all bad signs [laughs]. Used to be that –
Buck Sexton: I was just complaining yesterday: We shouldn't have a federal holiday called – or earlier this week – called Presidents' Day. That's just nonsense.
Porter Stansberry: Yes. All this stuff is a bad sign. So, you know, at one time, America had national treasures on our currency. We had the buffalo – the buffalo penny. If you remember the Saint-Gaudens coin, you had Lady Liberty on our money.
And, by the way, our money was sound. It was precious metals, gold. Then all of a sudden you get us invading foreign countries and you put out paper with presidents on it. And then of coursethere's no more balanced budgets. And then of course the central bank has to be created to finance the aggressive borrowing of the government, and we send our sons to more places to fight in more wars. And now you are where you are today, where the government owes something like $20 trillion which will never be repaid, and it manipulates interest rates, which leads people to borrow a trillion dollars to go to college, which is also insane. And then we're worrying about who's going to be elected president because it matters now and it shouldn't.
And so when I hear people talking about politics, about what Trump did or what Hillary did or didn't do, in my mind it's just all missing the point. The point is that our country has gone so far in the wrong direction that we have to care who the president is. We shouldn't. It shouldn't matter.
Buck Sexton: How about the report card?
Porter Stansberry: Maybe we should do something useful and bring on Steve Forbes.
Buck Sexton: Yeah, like the report card.
Porter Stansberry: Or report card, yes. So, Buck, I don't know if you know this or not, but we recommend investments over here at Stansberry Research. From time to time, we tell people, "You should buy this stock" or "You should buy this bond, and here's why." And sometimes people are curious about whether or not our investment recommendations are any good. And I think that's important, don't you, Buck? I mean, you wouldn't want to pay for information that's supposed to help you make money, and then only to find out much later that all of our ideas were bad and everyone who followed our advice lost money.
Buck Sexton: Indeed.
Porter Stansberry: So, every year at the beginning of the year we publish a report card where we show everything that we publish and the track record from those things. And we actually have these track records audited. And we compile them very carefully. And I'm very pleased to tell you that we did very well. The most stunning outcome was one of our trading services run by a former prop trader at Goldman. His name is Dr. David Eifrig. I'm sure you've met him.
Buck Sexton: Doc Eifrig.
Porter Stansberry: And what Doc does for people is the same thing that he used to do for Goldman's clients, which is make them money again and again and again and again. So his trading over the the evaluation period was from the summer of 2015 through the end of 2017. And in that period of time, he made a bunch of options recommendations where he was selling covered calls, which is a very conservative way to make a little bit of extra money. It's great for retirees to follow this kind of a safe strategy. But Doc's really good at it. So good, in fact, that the average return of all of his trading was 6.5%.
Now, you think, "Well, 6.5%, that's not that great. That's not that much." Well, yes, but these are a very quick trade. So these are happening like every 90 days. So on an annualized basis, which is what you would make if you kept rolling these trades forward, he was making 44% a year. Forty-four percent a year. And he made money 93% of the time.
By the way, some people have asked me, "Did you include the losers in his average?" Yes, of course we included the losers in the average. That's how much he made for investors over the last two and a half years. He made money 93% of the time that he traded, and he made 6.5% on average with each trade. And then because they were quick trades, on an annualized basis that equals 44%. Which is just unheard of. This is really a great product. He's really a good investor. I encourage everybody to try the product. It's called Retirement Millionaire. And this is his trading product, which is called Retirement Trader.
Buck Sexton: Can I asked what were some of the other grades given, by the way? I want to know how my main home slice, Sjug, did.
Porter Stansberry: Sjug always does very well. I can't remember off the top of my head. I don't have the report card in front of me. Country Club Guy, do you have a copy of it with you? No. We're not that prepared. He got an "A," I'm sure. In his newsletter, in True Wealth, he made money like 70%of the time, 70%-plus. And he had annualized returns of over 20%.
Country Club Guy: Twenty-two.
Porter Stansberry: Twenty-two percent. I mean, fantastic results. I did want to comment that we had a really nice success in one of our other products that most people don't pay any attention to. We have this bond research that we do. It's unique. And there's really nothing else like it on the market. StansberryCredit.com is the website if you want to learn more about this. StansberryCredit.com. The product is called Stansberry's Credit Opportunities, and what we do – it's really incredible. We have three analysts that work on this project. And we download all of the capital markets data for about 6,000 separate debentures. So we study individual bond issues of companies. So these are corporate bonds.
And what we're looking for is outliers. And a lot of people – they can't get their heads around this. So they're like, "Oh, so you're buying high-yield debt." Well, yes, we do buy bonds when they're trading at a discount from par. So we're not paying a dollar-for-dollar bond. We're paying like usually 75 cents or 80 cents on the dollar for the bond. And that allows us to generate very good returns. Our average return in this product is over 20% annually. So you're making more than 20% a year in bonds. And we make money on these bonds about 80% of the time, or maybe even a little bit higher percentage. We make money on almost every bond we buy. So it's a very safe way of making a lot of money.
Most people aren't interested in it because they've never bought a bond, they don't know anything about it, and they don't understand the research that we do. So they're like, "Oh, so you guys are just buying really risky bonds that could default." No, that's not what we're doing.
What we do is we download all the data from 6,000 different debentures and we study them. We put them through this computer that we built, and we're looking for outliers. So what we're looking for are bonds that're trading at a discount where the rating that we assign to them is higher than the rating that Moody's and S&P assigns. So most of the time, 97, 98% of the time, our rating that we assign them – we study, again, each individual bond and we look at its ability to be repaid on time. That's the critical issue. And sometimes – rarely – we find discrepancies. And we call those opportunities. And so we recommend them.
A good example was this Iconix bond. So back [around] Halloween, this bond fell apart. The stock fell 90% and the bond went from par down to about 50 cents on the dollar. And the reason why was because Walmart decided to stop selling this company's branded products. It doesn't matter – you don't need to know the details. But the fear was that, with Walmart refusing to sell their products going forward, that this company would default on a bond that was coming due in March. So this was a very short-term debenture. So this thing was due four months from when we recommended it. And we recommended it – by the time we were able to get the notice out to customers, the bond had rebounded a little bit. So customers were buying this bond between 70 cents on the dollar and 80 cents on the dollar.
Anyways, last week this company, Iconix, got all new financing and was able to repay the bond in full. So you bought the bond at 70 cents and now you're getting paid back $1. That's a nice capital gain. Plus you got the dividend coupon for the period. When you do all the math, you made 85% annually on this one trade. And that is exactly what we're trying to do with Credit Opportunities, and it's just so cool to see that my analysts can not only get the trade right and make money, but if you read the Iconix story, what's cool is that they got every part of the story right. They predicted exactly how the bond would be repaid. They predicted exactly how the new financing would be arranged.
I mean, it just gave you such an incredibly strong position. You knew exactly what was going to happen and you knew when it was going to happen. And of course you have a legal contract so you will be paid. And most investing – you just don't have any of that security, any of that certainty, or any of that knowledge. And as soon as I can get people to try this with their own money, they never look back.
I like to tell people that if you were smart, you would learn how to buy corporate bonds before you learn how to buy stocks. Because if you did that, if you started trading with us in bonds, you would never go to stocks. If you can make more than 20% a year in bonds and make money about 80% of the time, why would you buy anything else? And of course bonds are not nearly as risky as stocks, so you don't have any of the same volatility in your portfolio. It's a much better way to go. But, no matter how many times we say it, no matter how much we prove it again and again and again, most people just don't listen. I think we have probably less than 2,000 subscribers to Credit Opportunities. Nobody reads it. We can't sell it. Nobody wants it. Even though it's by far the best research that we produce and it gives you the best risk-to-return ratio of any product that we have. But that's just me. I'm just a salesman. You don't have to listen to any of that.
Buck Sexton: Could a noob like me figure it out? I mean, seriously.
Porter Stansberry: Of course.
Buck Sexton: If I started –
Porter Stansberry: Absolutely. If you have a good online broker, if you're using Interactive Brokers or using Fidelity or anybody like that, the only difference could be: You might have to pick up the phone to buy the bond. Some brokers require you call the bond desk to place your order; they won't let you do it online. That's it. That's the hurdle. And instead of using a symbol, you're using a CUSIP number. That's it. That's the only difference. You're buying a security, just like when you buy a stock. Except for a bond is actually a legal contract, and you are required to be paid your money back. And you know exactly when you'll be paid your money back. And you know exactly what your total return will be. For most people, it is a much better way to invest than buying stocks. But I can't get anybody to try it.
Buck Sexton: Why? What is the hurdle?
Porter Stansberry: It's not rational, Buck. It's just not rational. Because people have never done it before and so they're like, "Oh, I can't figure that out. I can't read a document. I can't go, 'Oh, I like that story. I'll buy that bond.' I can't pick up the phone and call my broker and say, 'Please buy this bond. The CUSIP number is XYZPDQ12345.'" For some reason, you just can't get people to do it. They will not do it. I don't know why. Beats me. As soon as they do it, they're like, "This is the best thing ever. I bought that bond, Porter, and you wouldn't believe it: I got paid all my money back plus the coupon exactly when you said I would and I made exactly as much money as you said I was exactly how you said I would, and the thing never even budged. It didn't go up or down. It just paid off."
I'm like, "Yeah, that's right. That's what a bond does." "Well, this is great." "I know. I've been telling you this for five years. You won't listen." By the way, it's funny because even in our office – Country Club Guy, have you ever bought one of our bond recommendations?
Country Club Guy: Of course.
Porter Stansberry: Oh, you have?
Country Club Guy: Yeah. Of course.
Porter Stansberry: Oh, I didn't know. Jimmy, in the control booth, ever buy a bond? Dan Ostrowski in the booth, never – I'm telling you. If you ask anyone who works here, I bet you 97% of the people that work here that have bought a stock we've recommended have never ever bought a bond and just won't. And you ask 'em why and they go, "I don't know. I don't know anything about bonds." Yeah. You know, beats me.
Country Club Guy: Well, guess what my success story was? I sold it exactly – I got paid out exactly how you told me it was going to work out.
Porter Stansberry: Yeah.
Country Club Guy: Yeah. Easiest thing I ever did. Easiest money.
Porter Stansberry: Just exactly what we said would happen happened.
Country Club Guy: Yup.
Porter Stansberry: By the way, we had another home run on the bond today actually. One of the bonds that we recommended is a Rite Aid bond, and Rite Aid just got acquired by Albertsons, the drugstore. I mean, the grocery store. And a cool thing happens: When a company gets acquired, the bonds usually go all the way to par overnight because the acquiring company has a much stronger balance sheet than the company that was acquired. You see what I'm saying? And so the bonds all get re-rated immediately. And so even though it's not like the bond's actually matured, but the value went all the way to par. So you can go ahead and sell 'em now because you've got that whole return, but you just got it even faster than you thought you would. Which is beautiful.
I'm telling you the truth, ladies and gentlemen listening to me on this podcast. Hear me now. Believe me later. If you will buy corporate bonds when they're trading at a discount when we tell you that they're safe, you'll make more money than you make in the stock market and you will take less risk. It's that simple.
Buck Sexton: I'm on it. I'm going to give this a shot.
Porter Stansberry: All right. Let's do it. Let's experiment. You can be the bond guinea pig.
Buck Sexton: I'm going to be risking hundreds of dollars.
Porter Stansberry: Hundreds of dollars.
Porter Stansberry: Well, that is one thing. You know, par value on corporate bonds is $1,000, Buck. So if you want to buy one bond, it's going to cost you $700, $800.
Buck Sexton: I could do that. I could swing that.
Porter Stansberry: That's a big ticket.
Buck Sexton: I mean, you know, I'm looking for rings, but I can do this too.
Country Club Guy: I'm going to start calling Buck "Odd Lot." Back in the trading days, you couldn't buy a full share – we'll just do a quarter share for him, Odd Lot.
Porter Stansberry: [Laughs]. It boggles my mind. Boggles my mind. And then here's the other thing: we sell this research for like, I don't know – it's expensive. We charge, what, Country Club Guy, you remember? $5,000, something like that, for this research?
Country Club Guy: I'm sure lifetime is around $5,000. And you get that forever.
Porter Stansberry: You get it forever, yeah.
Country Club Guy: I think it might be cheaper per year.
Porter Stansberry: And people are always like, "Well, what about the little guy, Porter? You don't care about us. I can't afford $5,000 for research." And I'm like, "Well, then you can't afford bonds, dummy" [laughs]. I'm selling you a lifetime of credit research for half the price of one year of Moody's and you get it for a lifetime. And, by the way, that's the same thing as buying five bonds [laughs]. So if you can't afford $5,000 for the research, then you can't afford to buy bonds. And, by the way, that's not my fault [laughs]. I'm not the guy who issued the bonds and made them cost $1,000 each. That's the issuer. That's the bank. That's not me. I can't do anything about that. Sorry, tough guy.
Buck Sexton: I'm getting scared you might have some salty language slip out, and then you're going to get a lot of sassy e-mails, Porter.
Porter Stansberry: Yes. That was the other thing, right? Yeah, that was hysterical. Guy wrote in that he just couldn't listen to us anymore because I said "God-[bleep]" on a podcast. Man.
Buck Sexton: Clean it up.
Porter Stansberry: Sensitive.
Country Club Guy: Clean it up, Dan? We need more bleeps. More bleeps.
Buck Sexton: You just said it again. Macro aggression...
Porter Stansberry: I mean, here's what I think's funny. Who cares? Why you have to be so offended so easily? Yes, I understand: it's not necessarily the most pleasant language. But when I get fired up, things slip out. Let it go. I wouldn't want to be –
Buck Sexton: There's actually a lot of research that shows: if you curse – cursing is correlated with higher intellect, by the way. True story.
Porter Stansberry: Oh. Wow. All right. I don't think I curse 'cause I'm smart. I think I curse 'cause I get so frustrated with the lunacy that we deal with, A, serving the public, and B, living in a country like ours where the government just does all kinds of crazy shit [beep]. I mean, all kinds of crazy stuff. See, there I go again.
And the stuff that people believe – it just boggles – it's just so crazy. I was reading an interview in the journal of higher learning know as People magazine. It was on the pooper at home. And so I'm reading through a People magazine on the shitter [beep] there, and they had an interview with Bill and Melinda Gates. These are the richest people in the world, right? And they've done great things with their money. They're working to cure malaria and polio. Those are really great noble things that they're involved in. So the interviewer asks Melinda Gates what she thinks is the most serious problem that we face, and she said, and I quote, "Global warming." Yeah.
Buck Sexton: It's a religious belief for people who think they're too smart for religion. It's true.
Porter Stansberry: I don't understand. How can you be that smart and believe in that nonsense? Again, that's what makes me curse, folks. That's what does it. That and people writing in to complain –
Buck Sexton: Well, think about it this way, Porter –
Porter Stansberry: – about the outrageous way that we put pluses next to grades.
Buck Sexton: You know how you create credibility and it's also important, for integrity, to have a report card of your stock picks so people actually know: how did it go, how did it do?
Porter Stansberry: That's right.
Buck Sexton: Global warming, when you look at the report card of what the same scientists that're screaming today were saying 10 years ago, 20 years ago, 30 years ago, they are the equivalent of losing you money all the time [laughs]. They are wrong all the time.
Porter Stansberry: Yes. But I do love how "global warming" has morphed into "climate change." Because we're not quite sure it's warming anymore, but we do know the weather changes a lot [laughs], and we can't have that [laughs].
Buck Sexton: They actually thought about switching it even further to "climate disruption," Porter.
Porter Stansberry: Ooh.
Buck Sexton: 'Cause they thought that was a buzzier word. And then they backed off of that 'cause they're like, "What's the difference between that and 'climate change'?" Nothing, really.
Porter Stansberry: Well, listen, I think that these letters I received – I think that they're microaggressions, and I think that people should not be allowed to use hate speech in that way.
Buck Sexton: There you go.
Porter Stansberry: I deserve – I should just go back to college somewhere and have a safe space.
Buck Sexton: Should we rock and roll with Mr. Steve Forbes coming up here, by the way?
Porter Stansberry: I think it's probably time that we do something a little more useful for our listeners besides just jabber – jabberwocky.
Buck Sexton: So, Steve Forbes is Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media. He grew up immersed in the worlds of publishing and politics. Steve began his career in 1973 writing at Forbes magazine and still shares his own views today in his editorial column, "Fact and Comment." Mr. Forbes had a two-time run for president in 1996 and again in 2000, primarily campaigning on the ideas to establish a flat income tax, the option to opt out of Social Security, competitive free trade, and congressional term limits. Forbes has also penned several books including Why Free Markets are Moral and Big Government Isn't, and How Capitalism Will Save Us. Please welcome to the Stansberry Investor Hour Mr. Steve Forbes.
Porter Stansberry: Steve, thanks very much for taking the time to join us today. The first question I have for you goes back some time. You probably don't remember this, but I was at a Gilder Conference where you were a speaker in the early 2000s, 2001, or 2002 time frame. And we were talking about this idea back then of how free markets had been ascendant for two decades and there was a PBS special called The Commanding Heights that talked about this revolution in politics and in popular culture. And I asked you back then – I said, "Steve, do you think we're losing" – and when I say "we," I mean free-market capitalists, folks like us – "Do you think we're losing the commanding heights, the moral high ground because of Enron and because of the corruption of the financial markets and because of this idea" – the people at that pharmaceutical company that were buying the drugs and then just raising the prices, Valeant.
And I just wondered if you had any thoughts about that lately. Have we lost the American people with the idea that free markets are the best way to lead the country?
Steve Forbes: I think what has undermined faith in free-market capitalism, free enterprise, free people, is the stagnation we've experienced for a decade. But the thing is: the crisis that we had in 2008/2009 was basically caused by the government undermining the dollar. And whenever you have a weak dollar, you get false commodity booms, housing booms. The housing craze was fueled by government policies urging people who couldn't afford to do these things to do them anyway. But free markets get the blame for it. And then we had eight years of an administration that saw business as evil, that saw commerce as something you put up with but nothing more, and saw businesspeople as just criminals in waiting. And so we had a decade of punk growth, car and NASCAR going about 25 miles an hour.
So the key thing, as happened in the 1980s when markets seemed to be discredited by the terrible inflation of the '70s, Reagan comes along, Ronald Reagan as president, and makes some major reforms, slashing taxes and the like, the US economy boomed, became the cutting-edge innovator in the world, and suddenly the world became a better place. I'm hoping the same thing will unfold now. After one year we've had, under Trump, President Trump, we've had some real moves on deregulation, whether it's at the Food and Drug Administration, the EPA, education and elsewhere, energy.
And we got a tax bill. Not perfect by my lights, but a good step, very good step in the right direction when you weight he pros and cons. And good judges being appointed. So we have to move on these reforms. And that, by the way, is why these upcoming elections in November are going to be so critical. Can we keep up this momentum and get this economy revved up to growing – going at 60, 70 miles an hour, i.e., four to five percent a year?
Porter Stansberry: Steve, the very first magazine that you launched – I think I have this correct – was called Business Today. Is that true?
Steve Forbes: That's right. At Princeton University undergraduate. I and two others – I was the founding editor. Another fellow named John Perel was the man who was the executive and the prime mover of the thing.
Porter Stansberry: And I just wonder: are you in any way still involved in publishing or speech at Princeton or at any other institution of higher learning currently?
Steve Forbes: No. I'd been on the Princeton board about 15 years ago for several years, and made the point when I left that real diversity means intellectual diversity, a battle that is going on even more today.
Porter Stansberry: Yeah.
Steve Forbes: And I do speak – I still have my day job at Forbes Media. But I still speak on campuses around the country. There are some intrepid souls there –
Porter Stansberry: How does that go?
Steve Forbes: – fighting for what is right.
Porter Stansberry: Well, that's what I wanted to ask you about. I just wondered if – I don't recognize college campuses anymore. It doesn't make any sense to me. I'm sure you saw the video of the professor being shouted at by a student at Yale. And there was a 2016 Gallup survey that I think raises a lot of questions about what's going on on campus. Asked if colleges should have policies against slurs and other intentionally offensive language, 69 percent of students said yes, 27 percent believe they should be able to restrict expression of potentially offensive political views, and 63 percent of students polled wanted schools to restrict costumes that stereotype racial or ethnic groups.
Steve Forbes: [Laughs].
Porter Stansberry: And the question I have for you, Steve, is: what in the heck is going on with this generation of people who are so terribly afraid of being offended?
Steve Forbes: Well, I think even though – we all know what the professoriate is, the professors. Most of them are very liberal, "progressive" they call themselves now. And the students – most of them would be on center-left. But most I don't think share – even despite that poll –when you get down to it, the idea that government should control speech, that government should control the Internet. When you get to specifics, they sort of back off. And when you have the idea of the bureaucrats restricting what you can say, it depends on how you phrase these things. There's just never been a counter-battle on the campuses, but that's changing. Brown University, of all places, made a very – Wall Street Journal praised them the other day – made a very bold statement of policy on openness on the campus. University of Chicago – the head of that is doing the same thing.
I was at a university in the state of Washington a couple weeks ago called Gonzaga. A very far left administration, but you have intrepid students who are fighting back and bringing on speakers. And so I think you're finally beginning to get a reaction. As administrators realize, whatever their political proclivities, whatever their political bent, views, what is happening now only leads to tyranny. And I think you're beginning finally to get some pushback. Most of these people, sadly, just took the path of least resistance until recently. Just giving in to these extremists. Now I think there's finally beginning – I underline the word beginning – some pushback.
Porter Stansberry: Steve, you're one of the few mainstream political leaders, thought leaders in the country that seems to have, in my opinion, a firm grasp of the role of gold in a free society and in the free markets. I wonder: have you paid much attention to the enormous gap between growth and productivity in our economy and the lack of growth in real wages? And how is that problem at all related to the paper-currency system that we have had for the past 40 years?
Steve Forbes: Well, it's amazing the seeming coincidences of what has happened to growth when we went off the gold standard, the Bretton Woods monetary systems they call it then. Some would say it's just a coincidence. I think it's a prime cause. The way you move ahead in this world in terms of progress and a higher standard of living is by investment. And if you have an unstable money, money that fluctuates in value, you don't get as much productive investment as you do when you have stable money. That's why today in the currency markets, the volume is over $5 trillion a day. All that brain power just going to trading on currencies.
So, yes. I think the thing to remember about a gold standard – there's so many myths about it all over the place. But the thing I think about gold is: gold is like a ruler, like 60 minutes in an hour, 12 inches in a foot. And gold – when the price changes, it's not the value of gold changing so much as the value of the dollar that's changing, people – what they think it is now and what they think's going to happen in the future. Gold keeps its value, not perfectly, but better than anything else on this earth. So when you have stable money, you get a more productive investment, more growth. History shows it time and time again.
But one other thing I think that has held down cash wages is our crazy health care systems, where, more and more, we pay more and more each year for insurance. And when employees buy insurance, that means less cash wages for their workers. And the explosive growth of premiums in the last 30 years I think goes hand-in-hand with the fact that, yeah, health insurance is counted as part of your compensation, but it sure doesn't translate into cash into your pocket.
Porter Stansberry: That's a very good point. Let's talk about the crazy interest-rate regime we've had for the past decade. Steve, I know you're familiar with the Austrian economic theory that artificially low interest rates leads to malinvestment, and they lead to capital being poorly allocated. When I look around the last ten years and I see things like a trillion-dollar growth in college lending; you see credit-card debts over a trillion dollars in America, you see auto loan debts over a trillion dollars in America – the growth in these kinds of consumer loans have been enormous. You also see of course the explosive growth of government debts. So we've gone from $4 trillion, $6 trillion in government debts held by the public to almost $15 trillion in the last ten years.
In your mind, where is the biggest malinvestment? Where is the biggest problem that we haven't yet had to deal with because of this extended period of artificially low interest rates?
Steve Forbes: Well, the artificially low interest rates is the equivalent of price controls. Most of us know – people realize that rent controls are bad. They distort the market, lead to distortions and to shortages and the like. And yet people – economists and businesspeople sort of accept as a given that the Fed's going to engage in what is in effect rent control: what price you pay to rent the money. And it has distorted the markets, especially in the last ten years when the Fed has tried to suppress long-term interest rates.
And that's one reason why small business formation has been very low-level, because of the distortion in the credit markets. Credit markets have become very hostile or reluctant to lend to new businesses, small businesses, households. And that's one reason why we haven't seen the kind of boom you normally get with small-business creation in this country. So the quicker the Fed can be pushed to get out of the interest rate game the better. And the idea that the Federal Reserve can guide this economy by manipulating interest rates is so preposterous. I mean, central planning does not work, whether in the Soviet Union and Mao's China or the central banks today. And the only question with a central bank today, since they don't keep currencies stable much anymore, is: how much harm will they do?
Now, in the '80s and '90s when we had a semi-decent – after Reagan got in office, we had a period of time where we had a semi – give it grade of C on monetary policy instead of F, which is what we had in the '70s and early '80s. But when you had a semi-decent monetary policy, gold didn't fluctuate too much – certainly not by today's standards – and you had a great booming economy. So the evidence is very clear. Don't try to engage in price controls, and the Fed should only step in when there's a financial panic for whatever reason, war or whatever. And otherwise they should just go for a permanent vacation to North Korea.
Porter Stansberry: [Laughs]. One more question about money and monetary policy. Is it a surprise to you that during this period of financial repression, soaring debt loads, and perhaps setting us up for a crisis of our own currency, that you would see something like bitcoin come to the fore?
Steve Forbes: Well, all of these what they call cryptocurrencies – I like "alternative currencies." I think it's better. But anyway, call 'em cryptocurrencies – that's the word of the moment – is a high-tech cry for help. And what they have not mastered yet, even though people are turning to them – what they've not mastered yet is getting stability for these currencies. You would never take on a lease with bitcoin. You'd never do a debt instrument with a bitcoin. So if you'd – say four and a half years ago, if you'd taken out a mortgage on your house, say $350,000, but did it in bitcoin instead of the dollar, you'd owe the bank today about $25 million, $30 million. So you have steak one week, dog food the next, filet the week after.
Porter Stansberry: [Laughs].
Steve Forbes: You have to get stability. So they have to master the stability part. When one of these things actually masters stability, whether it's to the dollar, or, better yet, to gold, you're going to have something that people are going to turn to. And governments – that's one reason why governments are becoming extremely hostile to cryptocurrencies: they don't control them. And we must not forget, money was not invented by government. It was invented by people in the marketplace looking for a way to make it easier to buy and sell with each other.
Porter Stansberry: Very, very good points. Steve, I've got one last question for you and then I'm sure you've got better things to do than talk to us.
Steve Forbes: No, this is fun [laughs]. I can vent about the craziness of what we've been doing [laughing].
Porter Stansberry: I'm really curious about your magazine business. As you may know, I have a newsletter business. We sell basically investment research to folks at a fairly high price. Our lowest-priced product is probably $100 a year and our highest-priced products are $5,000 or more a year. So we have a business where we're going after a very niche audience. We're not looking to have millions of subscribers; we're happy to get 10,000 or 20,000 new subscribers every year. And I just wondered – the media business has changed so much in the last decade. And Forbes has changed. And I just wondered if you could just give us an update on how that's going.
You guys have had some transitions. And there's something about your business model that I don't quite understand. I wonder if you could explain it to me: you guys have a ton of contributors. How does that all work? How do you get good content for your magazine today? And what is the business model you guys are trying?
Steve Forbes: Well, we still have the editorial department, so we still do about 800-1,000 print articles a year which we put online. But online, the one good thing about the web is that the capacity is virtually limitless. And so what we decided to do several years ago was to bring on people – not full-time, but people who would do it on their own – to give articles on various areas of their expertise. And so, whether it's in technology or entrepreneurship, monetary policy, they could go online. And they get renumerated – they get paid by the traffic they generate. We have a formula for it.
And so as a result we have about 1,700 contracted contributors. And instead of just the 800 or 1,000 print articles, we now do over 100,000 submissions online. So whatever your area of interest, you can find somebody who may give you some useful information on it. So our traffic now, depending on whose measures you use, ranges monthly from about 60 to 90 million unique visitors each month –
Porter Stansberry: Holy cow.
Steve Forbes: – around the world. So you have to remember on these things – and Peter Drucker, the late, great management guru, put it so well. He said "Every business, every organization should remind itself: what is your purpose? What is it you are trying to do? And if you remind yourself of your mission then you don't get quite as hung up when the means to achieve that mission change. And certainly in our business it's been totally upended. But we've changed the tools but not our goals.
Porter Stansberry: Very good. Well, listen, I've always been a huge fan of your magazine in whatever form it's published. And you guys have fantastic content. And I'm grateful for your time today, Steve. I look forward to seeing you this fall in Las Vegas.
Steve Forbes: Look forward to it. Thank you. It should be good fun. October 1st, right?
Porter Stansberry: October 1st. We'll see you then.
Steve Forbes: [Laughs]. Fantastic. Good. Thank you.
Porter Stansberry: Thank you very much, Steve.
All right, Buck. Well, should we get to the mailbag?
Buck Sexton: Let's do it. First up this week on the mailbag – let me first say, thanks to everybody for writing in and filling up our inbox with all the useful feedback. Shout-outs to folks like Arlene A., David W., John P., Carrie L., Paul B., David D., Steven M., and Nadine T., to name just a few. Your comments and questions are an important part of the show. We appreciate it. Keep 'em coming. And please write to us at [email protected].
First one up is courtesy of Brian. "Porter and Buck, I read your articles detailing how we should prepare for the inevitable jubilee. One thing you mention is that we need to check on the financial wellbeing of our brokerage firms as well as the applicability of SIPC. Could you please explain to listeners what to look for on financial disclosures that would indicate the possibility of a financial institution heading into a bankruptcy? Thank you for your work. I do learn a lot from your podcast. It's educational and entertaining. I appreciate your candid but colorful input on various subjects." From Brian.
Porter Stansberry: Well, Buck, you may have expertise in this part of the world. I don't really. I guess you can call me naïve, but my fiduciaries are people who I know and trust. My assets – my public equity is managed by Erez Kalir at Stansberry Asset Management. I know where those assets are. I know that they're held in my name and they belong to me. I don't have any questions about any of those things. The people that we use for clearing and custodial are the highest-class organizations in the United States. So I don't have any questions about that.
If you have a brokerage account with Ameritrade or somebody like that, you should call them and ask them these questions. I just don't know anything about any of those other firms. I don't have assets with them. So I guess that's not a very good answer, but I think the areas to be concerned about are not your brokerage account. I think the areas to be concerned about are people who have given out a lot of loans to folks who can't pay it back. So, in my opinion, that would be Wells Fargo; that would be Capital One Bank. Those are the people that I think are at risk. But because of the paper currency and because of the government insurance schemes, I don't think it's likely that you're going to see your deposits disappear. I just think it's likely that the value of that money is going to greatly decline.
So, for me, the most important way to hedge yourself against the risk of a jubilee is to protect yourself against the inevitable devaluation of the dollar the resulting inflation. And I think you can do that very well with all kinds of different ways. You can do that through owning good equity. You can do that through owning timber. You can do that through owning farmland. You can do that through owning gold. And of course we talk about all that in my book. So if you want to read more about it, go on Amazon or go to our website and get The American Jubilee book and read all about it.
I just don't think that focusing on the potential risk of your brokerage account is very high on the areas to be worried about. Those assets are held in your name. And even when a broker like – who was that – remember that commodity broker that failed, the one that was run by the former Goldman Sachs guy? The former governor –?
Country Club Guy: Corzine.
Porter Stansberry: Corzine. Yeah. Even when that firm failed, the people who lost money were the people who had invested in that firm, not the people whose brokerage accounts were being managed by them. So I just don't think that's really high up on your list of worries.
Buck Sexton: All right. Next up in mailbag. This is from Steve in Ohio. "Hi, Porter. Recently I tried to buy one of the bonds recommended by your Credit Opportunities newsletter. My broker has the bonds. I put in my trade and it was declined. I called – yup, picked up the phone – and they told me that I can't buy the bond because I live in Ohio and the company in question didn't register their bond in Ohio and a few other states that I don't remember. Is this correct, and have you seen this issue before? Thanks for bringing back the podcast, Steve."
Porter Stansberry: No, I have never seen that issue before. And I wish I had more information about it. I wonder what bond you're talking about. And I wonder if it was actually recommended by our newsletter. Because one of the things that we do before we recommend any bond is we make sure that it's liquid enough for people to buy. And we also call a couple different brokers and make sure that they can get the bond, that it trades. So this is a crazy one. I don't know what that guy's talking about. I do understand that securities regulation is state-by-state. And so there's all kinds of – if you're a broker and you don't register in a given state, you can't do business with someone in that state. So the only thing I can think is that maybe this guy's broker wasn't licensed to do business in Ohio. But that doesn't make any sense that you couldn't buy the bond if you were in Ohio. That question doesn't add up.
So, Steve in Ohio, just write us back, tell us what bond you're trying to buy, and we'll look into it and try to figure out what happened. But there's not enough information there for me to answer the question.
Buck Sexton: Well, Porter, I want to tell you: I had a learning experience courtesy of reading Extreme Value. I wanted to actually, once we had published – then I wait a few days – I wanted to invest in the stock. Vanguard would not let me buy it until I got on the phone and spoke to some gentleman for a while about it, which I thought was kinda weird.
Porter Stansberry: That is very weird.
Country Club Guy: It sounds like a sales pitch. Get you on the phone.
Porter Stansberry: Country Club Guy, you have the most experience working for financial firms. Why would they not let a customer buy a stock?
Country Club Guy: I don't see any reason, unless you're maybe a hardened criminal. I don't even think that'll stop you.
Porter Stansberry: I don't get it.
Buck Sexton: No, I mean, I bought it. It was fine. They just made me get on the phone. They wouldn't let me do it electronically. I just thought that was strange.
Country Club Guy: Yeah, that's what I mean. That's like a sales pitch. "Oh, I'll get them on the phone. I'll get them to do something else."
Porter Stansberry: Oh, I see.
Country Club Guy: Buy something else.
Porter Stansberry: You see, Country Club Guy, you have to talk to me like I'm a small child or a golden retriever. I'm not getting the inferences. Just like I'm not getting these questions.
Country Club Guy: You're the ultimate salesman and you didn't get that? Get 'em on the phone.
Porter Stansberry: I'm not the ultimate salesman.
Country Club Guy: Get 'em on the phone. You sell 'em something more.
Porter Stansberry: I can't sell at all. I don't know what you're talking about.
Buck Sexton: Number three up this week. "Porter and Buck" – we have Scott who writes the following. "I'm a grain farmer from Minnesota and have been a long-time Stansberry subscriber. I've enjoyed listening to your Investor Hour show while riding along in my John Deere autosteered tractor on my arm. I listened to your most recent show and heard you discuss" –
Porter Stansberry: Hang on, Buck. I have to jump in here. Sorry to talk over you. I just – this makes no sense. How can there be a John Deere autosteering tractor but I can't yet let my car drive me to work? I mean, if they can make tractors that drive themselves, why can't they make cars that drive themselves?
Country Club Guy: I'm assuming it's damage. Like there's less things to hit in the farm than there is in the road?
Buck Sexton: It's also slower, isn't it? Doesn't a tractor go like four kilometers an hour?
Porter Stansberry: What I'm saying: it's a tractor, right? This is not like –
Country Club Guy: GPS will be easier, right? You could just outline your farm?
Porter Stansberry: I'm just jealous. I don't think we have an autosteer tractor on my farm.
Country Club Guy: Look into it.
Porter Stansberry: I've got air conditioning in my tractor and John Deere.
Country Club Guy: Last time I checked, you're not allowed to drive it. So how do you get in there?
Porter Stansberry: What're you talking about?
Country Club Guy: Remember the last incident you had?
Porter Stansberry: On the tractor?
Country Club Guy: Yeah.
Porter Stansberry: I'm allowed to drive the tractor. It's my tractor. My farmer just asked me not to. Sorry. Let's just keep going with the question.
Buck Sexton: "I listened to your most recent show and I heard you discussing John Deere stock, and I wanted to give you some tidbits on their lending practices. In the last couple years I have noticed John Deere has gotten much more aggressive in providing financing to farmers for crop inputs beyond just tractors. This fall they were offering one-year loans ranging from zero to three percent on crop inputs such as seed and chemical. All a farmer had to do was send in a one-page credit application with their balance sheet on it. Meanwhile, the local banks are offering loans for the same crop inputs at around six-percent interest. And they make you go through much tougher cash-flow and balance-sheet analysis to obtain credit.
"It seems to me John Deere has a more lax underwriting standard compared to a normal lending institution. My fear is that John Deere is following in General Electric's footsteps and focusing more on their financial department instead of their manufacturing department. By the way, have you considered bringing back the Black Label Show? Those were some of my favorite episodes. Keep up the excellent work you guys do. Paid-up subscriber, Scott."
Porter Stansberry: Well, thank you very much for being a paid-up subscriber, Scott, and I do love when I get first-hand accounts of things like John Deere's lending practices. This is the kind of information that really makes our newsletters much better than the competition. So thanks very much for the details. And I think you're right to worry. As we talked about last week. I don't understand why John Deere, as a tractor manufacturer, would want to have a $30-billion balance sheet. I don't understand that. I think it's a very poor choice. And I think that what they're gaining in financial income in the short term is not worth the risks that they're taking in the long term. And we'll see if I'm right or not.
But these kinds of decisions – here's how I like to think about them. If you owned 100 percent of John Deere, if it was your private company, would you run the business that way? Would you make loans of that scale to farmers and get almost nothing in return? Zero-percent interest rates or whatever they're changing, zero to three percent. Would you do that? And I think the answer is: of course not. So why would John Deere's managers decide to do that? And the answer is because they don't really own the company.
And what they're doing is they're playing a financial game of chicken. They're seeing how recklessly they can run the company without it failing. Because that's going to increase the value of their options. It's going to increase the size of their bonuses. They're going to make money in the short term. And when the company blows up, they're just going to walk away because they're not really owners. And I think that is one of the big problems that we have in the public equity markets: most public companies are run in a very risky and dumb way. And I don't know where the board of directors are. I don't know where the people who should be paying attention to how this company's being managed – I don't understand why they're not involved, why there isn't more oversight.
And it's not just John Deere. You can look around at many places. The company, Santander. This is a public company that makes terrible auto loans, right? Over-20-percent rates of interest. These loans all default. These are the worst borrowers. It's a terrible business to be in. Why would you do that with your company? GE – all the stuff they've done. The latest stuff was about the long-term care insurance. I mean, talk about idiotic underwriting. Why do it? Well, it's because you're padding the benefits for today, and all the problems are going to come out later. GE's former CEO – he really should be indicted. I mean, he behaved in such a reckless fashion that I think it goes over into criminality. But that's just my opinion.
I mean, if you're a stockholder in GE, your total return for the last 20 years – total return – is zero. That's just – how do you do that? With the biggest bull markets in history, how do you have zero-percent total return on your investment in what was supposedly a blue-chip American business? How does that happen? Well, I can tell you what they did. And I did. If you read my newsletter, you already know. But it's just crazy. Where was the board? Where were the people who were supposed to be providing oversight to the management teams? They're just not around because I guess all the shareholders are index funds and they don't have to worry about any of that stuff. I don't know. Just boggles my mind. And it also – if I were a regular everyday investor, a guy buying index funds, for example, I would be terrified.
It's amazing to me that people buy stocks considering how poorly managed so many of those businesses are. It's just amazing. And I wonder at what point when that culture of equity finally gets crushed. Maybe it'll be the next big bear market, or maybe it'll be another Enron or something. But eventually people are going to completely lose faith in stocks. And that'll of course be a very interesting time to become an investor. So that's my rant about public equity.
Buck Sexton: And that's going to be it for the Stansberry Investor Hour for this week, folks. If you have a question for us, write to [email protected] We use your question on the show, we will send you some Stansberry Research goodies. Love us or hate us, just don't ignore us.
Mr. Porter, thank you as always for your insight, wisdom, and company, sir.
Porter Stansberry: Always a pleasure, Buck.
Buck Sexton: Going to be it for this episode. Thanks for listening and we will see you next time.
Announcer:Thank you for listening to the Stansberry Investor Hour. To access today's notes and receive notice of upcoming episodes, go to InvestorHour.com and enter your e-mail. Have a question for Porter and Buck? Send them an e-mail at [email protected]. If we use your question on air, we'll send you one of our studio mugs.
This broadcast is provided for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered personalized investment advice. Trading stocks and all other financial instruments involves risk. You should not make any investment decision based solely on what you hear. Stansberry Investor Hour is produced by Stansberry Research and is copyrighted by the Stansberry Radio Network.
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