There are some expressions that at times sum things up so simply. In trading, one of the expressions for not getting in the way of a quickly falling market is “Don’t try to catch a falling knife.” You’ll get hurt. But another one we often used when you saw huge orders come in, and in fact this one is used in many similar moments in life; “Don’t get in the way of a freight train.”
We say this when something big is coming, both good and bad, and we want to be smart enough not to fight it. The Internet and the World Wide Web were such events. People that decided to fight these technological advancements that were on the way to permeating society everywhere were left behind. My old trading floors all closed. The technology freight train. I was lucky enough to see that the light in the tunnel was the proverbial train headed our way and if you didn’t step back and find another way to earn a living, you were going to get run over. And that’s what happened.
The newest freight train, freshly constructed for your perusal, is the announcement that Amazon, Warren Buffett, and JP Morgan have teamed up to explore ways to jointly offer health insurance to their employees outside of the established benefit providers. Obviously I’m not the only one that sees this as a freight train heading our way.
Healthcare related stocks all took a hit on the announcement. Aetna opened almost 4% lower that day. And while it did close higher than that, it didn’t come close to recovering, or filling the “gap” created on the open. The action among healthcare stocks led the broad market lower as a whole (Yes, there actually are days that we close lower…go figure). As I touched on in the beginning of this entry, not all freight trains are bad. While we don’t necessarily like the fact that so many people (looked at a teenager lately?) have their faces constantly buried in their phones, few would argue that the internet has led to fantastic advances and control shifts within our daily lives.
So this can easily be one of those good freight trains. It’s kind of difficult to argue. The system is broken. It was broken before the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) passed, and it’s still broken. Better? Worse? Tough to truly say. There are benefits and costs. Heavy costs in the form of premiums. And most of us are aware of the gap between our state of health insurance nationally and many other countries that have figured out ways to make it work. I’m not advocating any specific system. I am along with most others, advocating some new system, and this could be the beginning.
We’re now looking at 3 large firms seizing control over what has been uncontrollable. And uncontrollable like a bad freight train. The old model, as it were… So what happens from here? None of us know for sure. Let’s think about what we do know. This is big news. You don’t need me to tell you that, just look at the stocks of companies that will be impacted by a new player. Granted, these three firms don’t represent a gorilla the size of any of the health care providers currently charging us untenable fees for something we all need, but if I’m not mistaken, Amazon was not seen as a company to kill an industry when it started. And now? Been in a Waldenbooks lately? Possibly a Barnes & Noble, but even that is probably stretching it.
Another cliché out there (regular readers know I’m a fan of clichés as they’ve generally been proven over the years to have legitimacy or they wouldn’t have stuck around), is that “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” It seems that’s exactly what’s going on here. Is there a guarantee that they do this right? Of course not. There are no guarantees, death and taxes aside. But examine the players. JP Morgan didn’t go down in the great recession because they have found a formula of making money with less risk than what took the others down. One of the most respected firms in the securities industry.
Warren Buffett. The Oracle of Omaha. Quite a nickname. Nicknames like that don’t come easy. It’s earned over time. Warren Buffett has earned it. He’s been better and more consistent than any money manager most of us can think of. Rallies, crashes, he’s seen it all and come out the other side. His record for the long term will always be a standard. So we’re talking someone who is smart, but beyond that has the insight and patience that have led to the growth of countless companies through the years. Not a person to bet against.
Another person I don’t bet against? Jeff Bezos. The man had a vision. Few of us saw it. But it seems to have worked out just fine for the richest man in the world. And he thinks this is the quickest and/or best way to tackle this. I’m pretty good with that. I still can’t wait to see the real results, but as far as the track record is concerned, the less you believe he can pull this off, well nothing personal, but the more that would probably drive him to be right. That is if he cared about any of our opinions. There are a handful of people that see things differently than the rest of us. Richard Branson. Elon Musk. Jeff Bezos. That’s a pretty successful list, so I’m going to say I think Bezos figures this one out…assuming he hasn’t already.
JP Morgan. Not Bear Stearns. Not Citigroup. Not Lehman Brothers. These folks do it right. They make money when the rest of us are making money, and generally make money if we aren’t. They don’t get written up for scandals…outside of Jamie Dimon’s shading of Bitcoin when we all think he was probably buying at the same time. That’s all we’ve got on them? Obviously another horse worth betting on.
When we put it all together, it seems a train headed in the right direction. Will they have everything right from the get go? Probably not. Will they figure it out? Probably so. Should we all be keeping an eye on this group effort to see if it creates a map for the rest of us down the road? On that one, I have little doubt. Stay tuned…I know I will.