Namaste- A devout Buddhist poker player won $671,240 at a high-stakes game in the Bahamas last week—and promptly gave away his haul to charity. Scott Wellenbach, who works as a translator of Tibetan and Sanskrit Buddhist texts, placed third in the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure tournament. The 67-year-old Canadian says he once struggled to balance his faith with his love of cards, and so years ago decided that he would give away all his winnings to Buddhist nonprofits and aid organizations. Anyway, Wellenbach says, he really doesn’t need the money. Buddhists “sit around and meditate a lot—and that’s free.”
In The Money- Indiana contractor Andy Rasmussen was prying up the floorboards of a Bloomington home when he noticed a bag sitting on top of an old heating duct. It was stuffed with $20 and $50 bills—moldy at the edges, but worth at least $30,000, he guessed. Rasmussen, who revamps homes for people with disabilities, believes the cash was likely hidden there by a previous occupant. It has now gone to the property’s owners, Bethesda Lutheran Communities, which will use it to help people with developmental disabilities. “It is not going to waste,” said Rasmussen.
Huge Gains- after an Iowa man who won a single dollar from a scratch-off lottery ticket requested and received his winnings in the form of a giant novelty check. Winner Tyler Heep says that after the presentation ceremony at Iowa Lottery headquarters, he promptly blew his windfall on “half a gallon of gas.”
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“Courage is like – it’s a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.”
-Marie M. Daly, Chemist
Like competitors who’ve completed a difficult section in an endurance race, U.S. stock investors took a breather last week.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which has gotten off to its best start since 1987, ended the week with a slight loss, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite finished slightly higher, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
News the U.S. government shutdown would end, albeit temporarily, appeared to be of little interest to investors. Barron’s suggested the markets’ muted response to the government reopening was in balance with its response to the shutdown – there wasn’t much of one. In fact, the S&P 500 has gained 10 percent since the federal government closed.
Despite apparent disinterest, the shutdown could negatively affect sentiment, according to Sam Fleming and Brooke Fox of Financial Times. They reported:
“The record-breaking US government shutdown is triggering ripple effects across the US economy and risks denting confidence among companies that have already been fretting about trade disputes and stock market turbulence. Shutdowns have historically had only fleeting economic effects, but Jay Powell, the Federal Reserve chairman, warned last week that a dispute that outlasts past impasses could begin to change the picture for the worse.”
Last week, stock investors weren’t all that impressed by earnings, either. Earnings indicate how profitable companies were in the previous quarter. At the end of last week, 22 percent of companies in the S&P 500 had reported earnings and, overall, they were 3 percent above estimates, according to John Butters at FactSet.
However, indications the Federal Reserve may decide to keep more Treasuries on its balance sheet than originally anticipated gave U.S. stocks a boost late in the week, reported Nick Timiraos of The Wall Street Journal. The Fed began shrinking its balance sheet in 2017 by letting Treasury and mortgage bonds mature. We’ll know more after this week’s Fed meeting.
What is going on across the pond? Last November, BBC commentator Chris Mason reflected the frustration of a nation with his report on the rapidly approaching deadline for the British exit from the European Union (EU). He said:
“So, where are we in all of this Brexit process…people like me are paid, aren’t we, to have insights and foresights and hindsight about these things, to be able to project where we’re going to go. To be quite honest, looking at things right now, I haven’t got the foggiest idea what is going to happen in the coming weeks. Is the prime minister going to get a deal with the EU? Dunno. Is she going to be able to get it through the Commons? Don’t know about that, either.”
The report went viral.
Since then, we’ve gotten some answers. The Prime Minister did indeed negotiate a deal with the EU and, on January 15, the British Parliament soundly rejected it. Heather Stewart of The Guardian reported it was, “…the heaviest parliamentary defeat of any British prime minister in the democratic era.”
The lack of an agreement in combination with a looming Brexit deadline – it’s just 9 weeks out – has created tremendous uncertainty about the future of British trade with the EU. One response has been stockpiling goods. Last week, Sarah Butler of The Guardian reported three-fourths of warehouse space in the United Kingdom is at capacity.
One intrepid entrepreneur has been marketing Brexit survival kits that provide 30 days of food rations for £295 ($380). Reuters reported the kit includes, “…60 portions of freeze-dried British favorites: Chicken Tikka, Chili Con Carne, Macaroni Cheese and Chicken Fajitas, 48 portions of dried mince and chicken, firelighter liquid, and an emergency water filter.”
As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.
John Klevens, CFA
Sources: The Week Magazine, WashingtonPost.com
Portions of this newsletter has been prepared by Peak Advisor