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.

Forget taxes — This is worse…

Estate taxes affect fewer and fewer people, so today the bigger threat that aims to separate your wealth from your loved ones and delay or block the transfer to them, is probate.

Regardless of the value of your estate, you need to spend time considering whether you want the decision over the disposition of your wealth to be decided by a court.

The probate estate is different from the federal taxable estate. And the differences between the two are important.

The federal estate tax is the way the Internal Revenue Service determines the value of the assets you owned and the amount of tax, if any, due on them.

Probate is a State process. It is used to clear the legal title of the assets you owned, ensure that your debts are paid and transfer the remaining assets to either your designated beneficiaries or to the beneficiaries set by State law when you don’t have a will.

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.

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.

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.

Think ‘midstream’ during the energy rebound

It has taken a while to get the U.S. energy patch back on the mend.

But there’s no mistaking what is happening now. Reserves are up, mergers are increasing and drilling is going strong in all the shales.

While it’s impossible to call a top or a bottom until you’re farther down the road, energy stocks have ticked all the boxes indicating a rebound.

The irony is, while Saudi Arabia’s production cut may have been the key factor for the bounce, the boom in U.S. production will actually keep oil and natural gas prices down.

But this isn’t an issue since oil in the mid-50s is profitable for U.S. shale producers — and demand is picking up to meet supply. That’s a crucial piece for a sustained recovery.

How to invest amid the uncertainty in Washington

One of the most frequently asked questions by investors these days seems to be: how do I adjust my portfolio for the new administration in Washington?

We’re in a period of what I think is unusual uncertainty in the markets. Before considering any potential change in policies, uncertainty already was very high.

As you know, we’re still dealing with the change in the long-term credit and debt cycle. Debt increased steadily from about the end of World War II until 2007. Debt growth helped increase economic growth above what it would have been.

In 2007, however, we reached a point where the debt levels were unsustainable. That led to the financial crisis. We’re still in a transition period in which debt is slowly retreating to levels that are sustainable over the long-term. The debt-reduction causes lower levels of economic growth. This transition period is when we’re also at risk of policy mistakes causing deflation and negative economic growth.