Can we learn from financial lessons of 90 years ago?
Echoes from the Great Depression may be telling us something
In 1928 Bernard Baruch, the Warren Buffett of his time, sold his entire portfolio of stocks. He was ridiculed in the press and by the financial pundits. In 1929 the US stock market crashed.
In 1930 the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act was passed by the US Congress and world trade shrank. In 1931 the banking crisis began and the Great Depression was well under way, ended only with the preparations for World War II in 1939 in the US and Europe.
Baruch was able to buy back stocks like General Motors and General Electric for pennies on the dollar. When subsequently asked by a journalist to what he owed his fortune, his reply was “I always sold too soon.”
Flash forward almost 90 years. When President Donald Trump canceled automatic pay increases for the federal bureaucracy he put the spotlight on spiraling federal debt and deficits. Under his own administration and those of his two predecessors, these have reached monumental proportions – the highest level of consumer debt in history.
The threat of a trade war hangs heavy over the world because of the Trump administration’s actions in the field of international trade (not all unjustified). The US stock market is at an all-time high and continues to soar.
After the onset of the Great Depression, extreme movements of right and left swept through much of the world. In 2018 extreme movements of right and left are polarizing political life in the United States and much of Europe.
Beginning to sound familiar?
History never exactly repeats itself, but sometimes it does a good imitation. As we all know, economists who predict apocalyptic events will occur are tempting the gods, who tend to be unforgiving. But such events do occur and certain signs and portents can be helpful in piercing the clouded veil of the future.
At present signs and portents are accumulating rapidly. Caveat emptor.