New realities are upon us

I’m not talking about economic realities or political realities… I’m talking about two of the most transformative technologies that are beginning to flow into our markets as well speak: virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

These are not just for gamers, young hipsters or spoiled millennials. AR and VR are already involved in some very real world efforts that illustrate the value underneath these whiz bang technologies.

What’s the difference?

VR is a computer generated simulation of a 3D environment where you can interact in real time, using VR headsets, gloves, suits, etc.

AR superimposes a computer generated view on top of what you are seeing in real life.

The difference is, VR tends to be completely immersive. Facebook’s Oculus Rift is a VR headset. If you have it on and you’re moving in a room to get a drink from the refrigerator, you may be moving in the game but you have no idea where you are in the room. You’re locked into the reality in your headset.

The best days are gone

In February, I talked about the disruption we needed to expect when oil drillers came back on line in the U.S. — companies were more likely to buy technology that could replace workers and make production and exploration more efficient and cheaper in the long run.

Today, I want to get you ahead of the curve on the coal industry.

When Donald Trump campaigned, he talked about bringing back coal and restoring it as major fuel source. There’s no doubt that coal is still a crucial energy source in the U.S., but in recent years its luster has begun to fade as natural gas has become a cheap alternative.

In 2007, coal was responsible for 50 percent of the mix for electricity production. Last year, that number was 30 percent.

The government’s worthless numbers

It looks like subprime auto loans — you know, the thing that has kept automakers on a growth binge for years now — are now defaulting at rates not seen since the worst of the financial crisis.

According to S&P Global Ratings, nearly 5 percent of subprime borrowers are behind more 60 days on their loans. The rate in January 2010 was slightly above 4 percent.

Apparently after the subprime mortgage meltdown housing lenders were forced to make sure that the borrowers could actually repay their debt (what a concept!).

But, that same mandate doesn’t apply to auto loans.

Oddly enough, this bit of bad news comes on the heels of supposedly great economic news. News that is so positive that the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates again. In the statement, the Fed said this was the last one for a while and was backing off because it wanted to make sure the workers getting back on their feet had plenty of room to get into this awesome economy.

America’s oil sword is rattling

If I had told you in the middle of the oil embargo in 1973 that the U.S. would soon be a bigger oil exporter than OPEC countries Libya, Qatar, Ecuador and Gabon combined, would you have believed me?

No, you would have asked me where Gabon was… and then locked me up in the looney bin.

But that’s where we are. I have talked about this in the past few months, but now it looks like after all the mergers and acquisitions and all the losses, the U.S. energy patch is officially back in business.

Add to that Spanish oil-giant Repsol’s recent announcement that they have found an “elephant find” — 1.2 billion gallons of oil reserves in Alaska. It’s the biggest U.S. discovery in more than 30 years.

The combination of these events has finally driven oil prices out of their $50-55 per barrel range and dropped it to sub-$50 again.

Hard asset cage match: Bitcoin vs Gold

If you haven’t heard, in recent weeks the price of a bitcoin has surpassed the price of an ounce of gold.

While this may be historic, it’s not exactly apples to apples.

I am a fan of both currently, although where gold is bottoming bitcoin is rallying.

Most of you either don’t know or don’t really care about bitcoin, but you should. There’s a lot buzz going on right now that may be a significant game changer for the cryptocurrency.

Let me give you an overview of what bitcoin is, where its value lies and what advantages it brings to individuals and investors.

It’s best to think of bitcoin like it’s a virtual precious metal. Now, once we start talking “virtual” anything, I know there’s plenty of people whose eyes are glazing over and other who are ready to go back to the Personal Liberty® home page and look for another article.

What Snapchat tells us about the real market

The first big-buzz IPO of the year was in early March. Snap Inc. (NASDAQ: SNAP) went from a hot social media tool with 158 million users to a publicly-traded company with a newly minted market cap of $32 billion.

Now, there’s no doubt that Snapchat has a big following, but the concern is the company ends up more like Twitter than it does Facebook. Obviously that concern hasn’t been shared by a large number of investors.

This kind of blind buying — most Snapchat users are teenagers and college kids — reminds me of the dotcom buying that went on in the late 1990s.

This time it’s different — not

I distinctly remember that there were 2 mantras going into the final quarter before the crash.

Don’t get stuck in the past

I was reading a recent article in Barron’s that discussed the challenges that Harley Davidson (HOG) is coming up against from a strong dollar and weakening demographics.

Now, you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the stock price — it’s up 30 percent in the past 12 months.

But as I read the story, two things came to mind:

  1. This stock is the poster child for the current market optimism.
  2. Harley represents the challenges of many companies that are seeing their businesses transform as a new generation starts buying things.

Let me address these one at a time.

First, this Trump rally is like building a castle in the sky. Unemployment is at a 44-year low — but only for those looking for jobs. I’m not saying this is Trump’s fault, but remember there are more people who have opted out of the traditional workforce than any time in modern history.