I was surprised to read something about Fidelity the other day. It was a fact they decided to leak out to the public. What they said was, based on all the 401k accounts on their platform, they’ve set a new record for millionaires within their customer base.
That’s just Fidelity. And that’s just 401k accounts. There is probably a record number of millionaires in America today, in general.
Yet, it still seems no one is happy. I don’t know why that is or what’s underneath it. I do worry, though, and what I worry about is our growing obsession with markets and the ways it benefits a particularly small demographic.
The other day I was watching our Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, talk about the Trade War. He was asked a question about the stock market. His response? He smiled and looked at the reporter, “The stock market is always right.”
90% of Americans own 6.8% of all stocks. The other 10% of Americans own the other 93.2% of all stocks. I don’t find that stat encouraging. It’s even less encouraging when you consider our Government officials speak of financial markets as a barometer for everything they do. Each day it is becoming their new god. And their new god represents a small percentage of the actual population.
In a prior era, we spoke about the middle class with admiration and focus. It was all about lifting up the middle classes. That was the secret to America’s success. Education, wage growth, savings, and increased productivity – that’s how the middle class got going. That’s how we went from one stage of wealth to the next.
Today, it seems we’ve moved on from those years. Today, we’ve graduated to the investor class.
While walking Bryant Park with a good friend several months ago, I explained to him my concerns about this scenario: a roaring market with very little participation from the general public. He said to me, “that’s just how it’s going right now and that’s all the people in this administration care about so either get on board or wait for the election.” I appreciated his bluntness.
The market is up almost 15% since we had that conversation. He was right.
I wrote this post not to be political, but actually to be introspective. As someone who has followed markets all these years, I’ve been fortunate to enjoy the ride. But I also know when something is tilting in a direction that no longer feels “right.” Or more importantly, feels equitable. Even if that means calling myself out.
The simple fact is that a large percentage of the population is missing out on the excess and appreciation of wealth that come with access to financial markets. In other parts of the country, things seem to be going differently. So far this year, it’s been reported that farmers are going bankrupt at a near record. We live in a time where my brokerage account can do more for me than a plot of land, machine equipment, and the production of food can do for those farmers.
Margin matters most right now. In times of stress, people will sing Cash Rules Everything Around Me. Lately, it’s more like Leverage Rules Everything Around Me. I often joke that I can get a margin loan for 3%, but a college loan will take me up near 10% even though it’s essentially protected by default.
If you really think about it, the investing class has probably received more benefits, backing, and support than any other group in America over the last 10 years. The Fed has been there every step of the way. This is not gloom and doom or gold bug or an end the Fed rant. It’s just a post calling it like it is.