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What Today’s Markets Have in Common With ‘Breaking Bad’

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Today’s Agenda

Markets Are Not in Danger, Skyler. Markets Are the Danger

One of the great things about the show “Breaking Bad” was that it started at an intensity level of “half naked in the desert with a gun” (content warning for Bryan Cranston in his tighty-whities) and then kept getting more intense for 62 episodes. Just when you thought the peril couldn’t get more outlandish, the writers found a way.

America’s stock and bond markets have been like this for about 12 years now. Almost as soon as markets started recovering from the financial crisis, thanks to massive government intervention, people started complaining they were too expensive.

But the writers keep finding ways to ratchet up the ridiculousness. Global pandemic? Here’s an even bigger government intervention. Now credit markets are reverting to a version of the “fog a mirror, get a loan” standards of the pre-crisis era, Brian Chappatta writes, because investors are so, so hungry for yield.

That’s because there’s an ever-increasing amount of money chasing an ever-shrinking amount of good investments, John Authers writes. The Fed hasn’t even started tapering its bond purchases yet, which means it’s still pumping cash into this frenzy and will keep doing so until possibly mid-2022. We may not even be in the (spoiler alert) “Walt recruits Nazis” phase of this show yet. 

The bond market at least still has a toehold in plausibility. (Unless you’re talking about bonds tied to volcano-powered crypto cities in El Salvador, which as Matt Levine notes may be less-than-plausible investments.)

The stock market, on the other hand, is not only historically expensive but also the playground of Redditors who drive individual prices to the moon just for the pleasure of torturing hedge funds or whatever. This makes a hash of incentive-based executive pay plans, writes Chris Bryant: Do execs deserve to become unimaginably wealthy overnight just because people on the internet bought their stock for the lulz? Worse, every such plot development brings us a little closer to the inevitable end. For now, though, enjoy the show.

Bonus Show-Runner Reading: Reappointing Jay Powell was the safe, logical choice. — Brian Chappatta 

Inflation Watch! A New Hope

There may soon be relief for families struggling to afford their 12 gallons of milk this Thanksgiving. Like everything else, food has gotten more expensive this year. And Andrea Felsted writes some Turkey Day classics are in short supply, such as ready-made gravy and cranberry sauce. But recipes for those things are available on the internet. And meanwhile grocers are steadily cutting prices on Thanksgiving food as the holiday approaches:

Comfort Eating

Special offers are stepping up alleviating some of the pain of higher food prices

Source: IRI Inflation Tracker

Note: Dates are weeks ending.

This isn’t exactly a sign of people panic-buying pumpkin pie and stuffing in fear of a wage-price spiral. 

The timing might be a little worse for holiday gift shopping. Many toys and electronics are stuck on very slow ice floes from Santa’s workshop (aka Vietnam), writes Tara Lachapelle. But by late December or early January, all that stuff will arrive, and suddenly retailers could go from a supply deficit to a glut. And if you want to move product, as Walter White could tell you, you either a) make it blue or b) make it cheaper.

So our long national inflation nightmare could soon ease in some respects. In fact, it would have been a lot less nightmarish if not for a couple of big, important sectors, writes Nir Kaissar

No, Not Everything

There's been a huge variation in price increases of CPI components so far

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Further Inflation Reading: President Joe Biden’s spending plan won’t whip inflation now. — Ramesh Ponnuru 

Once More, With Feeling: Mandates Are Good

This newsletter is a big fan of carrots, but sometimes you just have to break out the sticks. Such times include deadly global pandemics when people refuse to take life- and society-saving vaccines. Mandates are despised by a very vocal minority, making them risky for politicians and  ?CEOs of public companies. But one of the latter, United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby, thought it was worth the risk. He tells Tim O’Brien he estimated up to 40 employees could die if he didn’t impose a vaccine mandate. That seemed like too high a price for avoiding a little right-wing backlash and/or employee defection. It’s the same choice more and more leaders are making as the virus surges anew. Read the whole interview.

Further Pandemic Reading: How to have a safe Thanksgiving without masks or loneliness. — Faye Flam 

Telltale Charts

Europe is falling victim to the politicization of gas supplies from Belarus to Turkey, writes Julian Lee.

Pipe Pressure

European natural gas prices are being whipsawed by pipeline politics

Source: ICE-Endex

Further Reading

The U.S. must be willing to walk away from Iran nuclear talks. — Bloomberg’s editorial board 

Countries with lower trust levels, such as the U.S., are less resilient to Covid and other disasters. — Andreas Kluth 

The U.S. can grab market share in electric cars by building supply chains adaptable to new tech. — Anjani Trivedi 

Pete Buttigieg has massive power over infrastructure spending. Will he use it for good? — Matt Yglesias 

Big Tech, ironically, is giving us good tools to disconnect from tech. — Parmy Olson 

Just because there are a lot of jobs out there doesn’t mean it’s easy to find the right one. — Erin Lowry 

ICYMI

OPEC+ warned it would punish governments for releasing oil from reserves.

The NFL’s Odell Beckham Jr. will be paid in Bitcoin.

Cathie Wood’s Genomics fund is struggling.

Kickers

Runners locked out of “God mode” are hacking their treadmills. (h/t Scott Kominers)

Here, watch some soothing live video of bald eagles on Hilton Head Island. (h/t Alistair Lowe)

Fingerprints can be hacked.

“Dancing molecules” help paralyzed animals walk again.

Notes:  Please send fingerprints and complaints to Mark Gongloff at [email protected]

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:

Mark Gongloff at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story:

Brooke Sample at [email protected]

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 11/23/2021

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