Hard Days

     I was watching the movie “Elizabeth: the Golden Age” the other night and noticed a restrained and sympathetic portrayal of her astrologist.
     Upon the Queen’s consultation, the astrologist said the stars showed that a great empire would rise and a great empire would fall. But which one will rise and which one fall, Elizabeth asked.
     Alas, he answered, his profession is more art than science and the Queen’s question was one he could not answer. He was sure of one thing, however. “There are hard days coming.”
     It got me to thinking about our stock broker who advises our company’s pension plan – we have gone against the trend by starting one where others are shutting them down. The broker is also a predictor of the future, and to me, his art is no more accurate than the astrologer’s. Maybe less.
     For example, about a month ago, he wrote a newsletter to his clients saying there was a good chance oil prices would go back down.
     I emailed back saying what a load I thought that was, that oil was not going down for a reason as simple as the fact that Chinese and Indians are buying lots of cars. And I remembered that when I was in Brazil more than a year ago, the local paper noted that a record number of residents were taking driving lessons.
     Which matched my impression at the time that there were an awful lot of new cars on the roads in that country, famed for its legions of poor.
     So prices for oil are not going down, I told the broker. The related issue of the food supply is less clear in the long run but will not change any time soon, basically for the same reason. Supply is coming up short against demand.
     And then you have politics, I told him, making my own counter-predictions.
     The conflict between the West and the Muslim world and I am portraying it that way on purpose because I think anything else is soft-soaping the issues shows no sign of ameliorating.
     That too brought the astrologer to mind: he was talking to Elizabeth about two great empires, Spain and England, competitors in their economic ambitions but most importantly in their religions, Catholic and Protestant.
     Those conflicts change in form but not in substance. And they are here with us today.
     Religion was and remains the fuel of conflict.
     And it seemed to me that we are indeed in a time of upheaval, one that has grown slowly in its dimensions. It contrasts with the long, Elizabethan-like period of basic stability since World War II, while conceding that the Cold War, Vietnam and the political upheaval of the 1960s were no picnic.
     But who could imagine how quickly the SUV market would implode, how suddenly the Mexican government would be required to pass emergency measures subsidizing tortillas, how many hot spots of conflict would flame up, from Pakistan to Lebanon to Zimbabwe, all against the backdrop of an arc of religiously-based power developing throughout the Middle East.
     The day after watching the movie, I drove down to check on a fence being built on my dad’s old farm outside Ramona. Then stopped in Carlsbad for a swim in the ocean. It was a stormy evening.
     The surf was pretty heavy and the water was a deep gray, under the boil of the surf. Above was a gray sky full of storm clouds as the day’s light was fast disappearing. The world’s troubles were forgotten, immersed there in the surging power of the waves, between the ocean and the sky.
     But the day after I got back to Pasadena and wrote this piece, Israel suggested it might bomb Iran’s nuclear plants and oil surged a record 11 bucks in a single day, thus linking the two fundamental issues I had posed to our broker.
     So it was that I told our predictor of the financial future to put at least half of my assets in cash. Because my star charts show that there are hard days coming.

%d bloggers like this: