Grow Your Portfolio the Intelligent Way

Mueller, Amash and Doing One’s Job

  • Mueller, Amash and Doing One’s Job
  • ETF Talk: This Tech Fund Provides Exposure to Artificial Intelligence
  • A Game of Thrones Shaming on the Pay Gap
  • Hiatt’s Cry to Me

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What do Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) have in common?

The answer is they are two men tasked with vitally important roles that involve oversight of the executive branch. Another thing they have in common is that both are doing what every real and honest man must do — his job.

Today, Mr. Mueller spoke out for the first time in what appeared to be a hastily scheduled statement to the public regarding his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. You can watch the full statement for yourself, and, if you do, it should become clear to you that his words, as well as the complete Mueller Report, is far from a document of “exoneration” for the President of the United States.

Instead, Mueller’s statement included the following language: “Charging the president with the crime was not an option that we could consider,” and “Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime.” Then Mueller added what I think is the most significant thought of the day. He said, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Translation: “The president is likely guilty of obstruction of justice, but I wasn’t allowed to say that in my report.”

What Mueller did today, and what he did throughout the nearly 448-page report, was to lay out a case for the next step in the process. Of course, the next step here, as spelled out in the Constitution, is for Congress to do its job and determine whether to take Mr. Mueller’s findings and investigate further into whether the president’s actions justify impeachment proceedings.

And that brings us to another man doing his job, the aforementioned Republican Congressman Justin Amash.

You see, as a member of Congress, Amash did what he is supposed to do — he read the Mueller Report to determine if what is in that report merits further Congressional action. Amash thinks there is, and he laid that case out for the world in a series of tweets with specifics as to why he thinks this situation calls for impeachment proceedings.

Now, you may not agree with Rep. Amash and his conclusions. You may not agree with Robert Mueller and his conclusions. I am not arguing here for the truth of either man’s propositions.

Yet, what one must agree with here is that both men are trying to do their jobs.

Perhaps you’ve read the Mueller Report and have come to a very different conclusion than either its author or the Congressman from Michigan. Certainly, there is a serious question of whether more action is needed on the issue of obstruction of justice or whether the whole thing has been blown out of proportion by President Trump’s political enemies.

As a man who takes pride in doing his job as an objective observer of reality, I suspect that both of these premises can be true simultaneously. That is to say, the obstruction issue can and does require further inquiry and the president’s political enemies almost certainly have overreached.

The real issue here is that if you are tasked with a job that requires you to look at reality objectively (and what job doesn’t), then you must be the kind of objective person that, regardless of what kind of political, social, familial, psychological pressure or criticism is foisted upon you, thinks for himself and makes an objective conclusion.

It is what Shakespeare no doubt meant in “Hamlet” when he wrote: “This above all: to thine own self be true…”

In today’s politically polarized climate, it seems far easier just to abdicate reality and side with your tribe’s consensus. If you’re a Republican, this means that President Trump can do no wrong, and the “fake news” is the enemy of the people. If you’re a Democrat, this means that President Trump is Lucifer incarnate, and his mere existence is an offense to your fragile sensibilities.

Yet, I strongly recommend you don’t fall into this trap. Groupthink is not a flattering characteristic. In fact, it’s downright subversive of your individuality, and it represents the ugliest version of conformity.

So, whatever side of this national debate you come out on, make sure you’ve reached the conclusion for yourself.

It is your obligation — indeed, it’s your “job” as a rational being — to evaluate reality for yourself and to reach your own conclusions. Anything less and you are a man who has failed to assume the responsibility of doing his job. Another way to put it is that you’re not a real man.

Think for yourself.

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ETF Talk: This Tech Fund Provides Exposure to Artificial Intelligence

The question of how the use of artificial intelligence (AI) will affect daily life has yet to be thoroughly answered.

While politicians have yet to enact policies that aim to cushion the deleterious effects of AI that include the loss of employment in certain sectors in the economy, artificial intelligence still provides ample opportunities for investors. The Global X Future Analytics Tech ETF (NASDAQ: AIQ) is an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that can give a prospective investor access to this dynamic part of the global economy.

Specifically, AIQ tracks a market-cap-weighted index of developed-market equities from companies that are involved with artificial intelligence and big data. The companies that make up the AIQ portfolio mainly use artificial intelligence to analyze big data for their own operations or for other companies. Those holdings are selected by AIQ’s managers, based on a composite analysis of public filings, products and services, official company statements and other information.

Some of this fund’s top holdings include Qualcomm Inc. (NASDAQ: QCOM), Facebook, Inc. Class A (NASDAQ: FB), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Adobe Inc. (NASDAQ: ADBE), Amazon Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), Service Now Inc. (NYSE: NOW), Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ: NFLX) and the Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN).

While these companies are mainly in the software & IT services sector, encompassing 60.73% of the fund’s total composition, this ETF has holdings in companies that are in the semiconductors & semiconductor equipment, 14.28%; aerospace & defense, 5.20%; industrial conglomerates, 3.81%; and professional & commercial services, 3.63%.

The fund currently has $41 million in assets under management and an average spread of 0.38%. It also has an expense ratio of 0.68%, meaning that it is more expensive to hold in comparison to other exchange-traded funds.

In terms of AIQ’s MSCI ESG Fund Quality Score of 5.69, it ranks in the 56th percentile within its peer group and in the 56th percentile within the global universe of all funds in the MSCI ESG Fund Metrics coverage.

This fund’s performance has been mixed in the long term. While it only has been down 8.02% over the past month, it rose 1.07% over the past three months and remains up 20.37% year to date.

 

Chart Courtesy of stockcharts.com

In short, while AIQ does provide an investor with the ability to profit from the world of artificial intelligence, the sector may not be appropriate for all portfolios. Thus, interested investors always should do their due diligence and decide whether the fund is suitable for their investing goals.

As always, I am happy to answer any of your questions about ETFs, so do not hesitate to send me an email. You just may see your question answered in a future ETF Talk.

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In case you missed it…

A Game of Thrones Shaming on the Pay Gap

“Shame! Shame! Shame!”

That’s a memorable line and story development from the widely popular television series “Game of Thrones.” Now, I admit that I have never actually watched a full episode of the series, which certainly puts me in a minority among my peers.

Yet, one would have to be culturally illiterate not to know something about the series. One of the things I know is that the themes of morality, shame and atonement are strong threads sewn throughout the show.

One portion of the show I did see was in Season Five, Episode 10. This also happens to be considered one of the most-powerful scenes in the series, at least according to the “GoT” fans I spoke with. This scene involves Queen Cersei Lannister, who has committed adultery and must atone for her infidelity before she can resume life in the royal palace.

Her punishment is a “walk of shame,” where she is humiliated by being stripped nude, having most of her hair cut off, and then paraded through the streets to be jeered at and spat on. She also is surrounded by people shouting obscenities and cries of the repeated, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

Now, while public shaming in “GoT” is certainly a powerful social tool in discouraging immoral and anti-social behavior, shaming is alive and well today in the real world. A case in point is the attempt to publicly shame companies into rectifying the so-called “gender pay gap.”

In fact, my very own U.S. Senator, Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who also happens to be making a run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, is the spear at the head of an effort essentially to shame companies into correcting employee pay disparities by forcing them to disclose salary data by gender.

As Peter Suderman writes in a recent Reason article, “Kamala Harris Wants to Force Companies to Report Pay Data to the Federal Government — and Fine Them If They Don’t Offer Equal Pay,” Sen. Harris wants to “force companies with over 100 people to disclose salary data by gender to get an ‘equal pay certification’ from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an arm of the federal government that enforces workplace civil rights. She also wants to fine companies for discrepancies in pay.”

Suderman continues, writing, “If a company fails to prove that it meets the standards of equal pay, it would be fined 1 percent of its profits for every 1 percent of the gap between what men and women are paid.”

So, Harris has taken it upon herself to determine what a private employer should pay his or her employees. And, if there is a pay discrepancy that Harris deems inappropriate, then she is going to use the power of government force to punish a company for its shameful transgression.

What’s next, stripping CEOs naked, chopping their hair off and walking them down the corner of Wall and Broad to be spat upon by a jeering socialist mob?

Unfortunately, the truth of that last statement isn’t too far off from what some on the regressive left would literally like to see done. And while I am not accusing Sen. Harris of having such morose intentions, I do find it repugnant that she wants to wield the government’s scythe on companies which she determines are guilty of paying some employees a little too much more than others.

Only a business owner has the right to determine what he or she pays his or her employees. The government should have zero say in determining a “gender price gap,” or a “living wage” or even a “minimum wage.”

In a true free-market capitalist system, companies should have the right to pay their employees based upon the value those employees provide the company. Full stop.

Moreover, employees have the right either to accept or reject an employer’s compensation. Freedom from coercion means that no third party or governmental agency has the right to interfere with the price of labor or with the willing exchange of money for labor between two consenting adults.

It is the principle of free exchange that is under attack by those who have determined there is some kind of shame involved in the inherent inequities of what one employee brings to an employer vs. another.

As I’ve said many times before in this column, the essence of the battle between capitalism and socialism is that capitalism maintains that you own your own life and that you can sell your labor to a willing party for what that labor will bring.

By contrast, socialism maintains that society/government essentially owns your life, and that you are therefore unable to sell your labor to a willing party both without society’s approval and without whatever restrictions the bureaucrats in charge think a person should be paid.

When stated in these terms, it’s not hard to see that socialism is a perfect prescription for telling us all what to do, what to think… and what to feel.

So, don’t let this encroachment stand. Be vigilant, and challenge bad ideas on principle, and with principled thinking that goes beyond mere politics. Indeed, we must be willing to challenge bad ideas down to their root. Because until we pull the roots out of the ground, the foliage of bad ideas will continue to grow.

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Hiatt’s Cry to Me

Come on and cry to me baby

You can even lie to me baby

I’m probably gonna let you down, but

I swear I won’t keep you down…

— John Hiatt, “Cry to Me”

As one of America’s best singer/songwriters, John Hiatt has consistently delivered heartfelt and poignant lyrics over catchy melodies for decades. His 2018 album, “The Eclipse Sessions,” has a song titled, “Cry to Me.” The lyrics here are from the chorus, with the profound line being: I’m probably gonna let you down, but I swear I won’t keep you down. And as Hiatt described it in an interview, “To me, that’s about as good as any fellow can do.” I couldn’t agree more.

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.

In the name of the best within us,

Jim Woods

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