Report from the OP, May 13, 2022
It’s been a busy few days. Let’s do a micro to macro thing.
Locally, it’s primary election season. I’ve been working the polls, doing retail politickin’ for a buddy who is running for the NC Senate. He held that seat until last election, when he was beaten by a very well financed opponent. We’re trying to get it back for him. He’s Christian and conservative. Doesn’t take PAC money, so not so well financed. Doesn’t strike you as a politician when you talk to him. Straight shooter, and doesn’t care whether you like his answer to your question or not. In some ways, he reminds me of the late Senator Jesse Helms. There’s a man I’d like to have back.
At any rate, I’m tired. I’m taking a few days off to rest and recuperate before Election Day on May 17. That day I’ll be an actual poll worker. I haven’t done anything like this before, but it’s past time to start getting heavily involved. My Mom was a precinct judge for many years, and I never understood why. For many years, I felt that politics was a messy, nasty business and I didn’t want to get any of it on my shoes. Obviously, I’ve reconsidered. Maybe we can’t vote ourselves out of Clown World, but if it comes down to cases, I’ll know I’ve done all I could before the festivities get real.
While going from one place to another yesterday, I noted that gas was roughly $4.26/gallon for regular unleaded. I did see a couple of places at $4.20 and one at $4.31. Where I stopped to fuel up they also had 93 octane 100% gas for $5/gallon. Diesel was about $5.40/gallon, and I saw my first station that had ran out of it. From what I hear, we may be seeing much more of that soon. Folks, if you aren’t stocked up on food and other essential items, you’re wrong. Get right. Now, as in stop reading and go shopping. If commercial diesel stations start running dry, bet that grocery stores will be empty in a couple of days as people panic.
I’ve been told that most big rigs can carry 400 gallons of fuel and get maybe 6 MPG, so that gives them a unrefueled range of roughly 2400 miles. Maybe that saves us, maybe it doesn’t. The ZeroHedge story has a picture of a message urging drivers to fuel up before entering the Southeast. Since we seem to be ground zero for this shitshow, that sounds like good advice. Trust me, I’m not even allowing our vehicles to hit 3/4 before filling back up. Which reminds me, there’s a gas can that needs refilled. It never ends.
Speaking of vehicles, I’ve been fighting a “Check Engine” light in the Toyota Camry Hybrid. I’m learning that this can be something of a black art. Right now, it appears that, after replacing an air filter that was dirty and restricting the airflow, there may be a battery cooling fan that needs cleaned, or that may have failed. Those lithium batteries get hot when charging or discharging, and they do that constantly in a hybrid. I’m having a bit of fun sourcing parts, even common ones in some cases. If you have a vehicle that needs love, get that handled soonest. And stock up on a couple of oil filters, a couple of changes of oil, air filters, cabin air filters and whatever else you think you might need in the next 12-24 months.
Grocery stores are still looking all Covid-y. You can generally get what you want, but perhaps not as much as you want of it. Unless it’s baby formula, because there, you’re screwed. I looked. The locked cases were painfully close to empty. At least there is meat, if you can afford it. I think there’s meat because a lot of folks can’t afford it. Dried beans and rice are scarce again. Canned goods are still in relatively good supply, unless you want canned fruit. Good luck with that one, and lent me know how it works out for you. Toilet paper and paper towels are still available. Women’s “sanitary products” are getting a little scarce. Pet food is a little better. Still plenty of chips and fizzy drinks.
Restaurants are starting to hurt for customers. At least that’s relieving the pressure from lack of staff. I can tell you that we’re not going out to eat so much as we were. Drive-thrus are also suffering. We’ll usually go by Cook Out once a week or so for a double chocolate milkshake. Normally, you’ll wait in line-a long line. Now, you have a 50-50 chance of driving right up and ordering. Same thing at another favorite, Chick-Fil-A. I’ve seen the line wrapped around the building, through the parking lot and into the driveway. Not so much now. I went the other evening and I was in a line of 5-6 vehicles. The people who work in these places are going to see shorter hours soon.
Starbucks is blessedly empty. Serves the Woke so-and-sos right.
Mrs. Freeholder has been under the weather with some sort of upper respiratory crud for the last week. Two doctor visits plus a round of x-rays. She has asthma, which normally is well-controlled, but this stuff got it going. Way too much hitting the inhaler going on for my taste, but at least she didn’t have to haul the nebulizer out. Antibiotics, cough meds and steroids. I think the steroids broke it. She seems much better today. After I brought her home from the second round of doctoring, I was talking, from a respectful distance, to a neighbor. He and his wife, along with a niece, have had something that sounds awfully like the Mrs.’s creeping crud. He also named a few other folks they know who have had it. Me, I feel pretty good.
I’m not kidding about that. Actually, I feel really good. Today was Day 8, I think, since I’ve had a migraine. I’m liking this. However, I’ve been looking at the retail price of all my drugs lately. This last migraine preventative is $2077/month. That’s on top of Botox at something over $3000 every 3 months, Ajovy at $880/month, and a few other things for other issues. A decent estimate is that I’m costing my insurance around $5000/month. Chronic health issues are expensive. I have to wonder how long they’re going to keep paying for all this. But without all this, I’m pretty close to a basket case. <gallows-humor>But hey, at least that saves me money on preps.</gallows-humor>
On to the macro stuff.
From what I can gather, it seems that the Russo-Ukraine war is into a grinding phase. The Russians are attempting to swap their tactics over to a war of attrition, and the contest is to see if they can stand to loose the material and troops at the rate the Ukrainians are able to destroy them. Tales from some of the cities and towns that have been liberated from the Russians are horrifying. It appears that a lot of the Russian troops are uneducated and without any moral compass whatsoever. Looting, rape, torture and mass murder are the common stories. In the better news, it seems that the nuclear sabers aren’t being rattled so much.
Why do I keep getting this mental picture of the Chinese looking at Russia and sharpening their knives? Taiwan might catch a break. Or not. It’s hard to know what the Chinese will do. They might try for a twofer.
The economy, whether personal, local, national or global, is showing some obvious cracks. You see it on the personal level at grocery stores and gas stations. You see it locally at restaurants and stores. Nationally we see it in things like shortages of baby formula and fuel. Globally we see it as container ships pile up outside of closed Chinese ports and shelves the world over slowly empty of goods “Made in China”.
Prices are rising, often daily. Bloomberg reports that gasoline prices are up 33% and diesel is up over 137 freaking% since late February. Commodity prices, such as the prices for wheat and soybeans, are rising as it becomes more and more obvious that, between war and weather, it’s probably going to be a bad harvest, right when we don’t need one.
Some commodities, such as gold and silver, are declining in price. You might consider buying the dips, such as they are. Bear in mind that the price of a physical precious metal is only loosely correlated to the spot price for the metal. Right now silver is trading at something around a 75% premium (depends on the form you buy it in) and gold is a relative bargain at only a 10-20% premium. Of course a lot of people can’t afford this kind of insurance.
Ammunition, another precious metal, is also getting a bit less expensive. Beats me why, unless a lot of people are like me and realize that they already have enough. Or they just can’t afford it any longer. I can’t say anything about gun prices, as I haven’t set foot in a gun store or gun show in months.
Watching what’s up and what’s down, I wonder about deflation. If we see deflation becoming at all widespread, expect the Fed to do anything they can think of to stop it. They have panic attacks over deflation. Inflation-real inflation-is up to +/-17% and the money supply is still increasing, according to ShadowStats. Not good signs. Would you rather have inflation or deflation? Back in 2011 they believed you could have both, which is hardly comforting.
In maybe good news, there is some word of used car prices declining. Some say they are crashing, which strikes me as hyperbole. I think this is a classic example of market overshoot. That won’t make people who paid extravagant prices for used cars feel any better, though.
Housing prices are still rising in most places as demand continues to exceed supply. However, interest rates are starting to drag on prices and many younger people are being priced totally out of the starter home market. Conversely, us old folks are having a hard time downsizing, because our houses are too big and no one can afford to buy them. I can tell you that houses in my area are starting to sit rather than sell, and it was like someone flipped a switch when it happened. Perhaps my son my find a house after all.
Overall, more signs point to hard times than to good. I don’t want to be the Superspreader of Dark Thoughts, but unless the blasted war stops in the next month or so, I expect to see a global recession that will turn to depression if if continues for long. Don’t look to the central banks to save the day, because their quiver is empty. Governments are in a similar situation. The money printer is about out of paper.
See to your supplies. Pray if it’s your way. Pay very close attention to what is going on around you, especially those things close by. Don’t get caught napping.
Edit, 05/14/2022, 1129 EDT: I had this remarkable article, primarily on food inflation, drop into my inbox courtesy the Brownstone Institute. Absolutely worth reading.