Alexander Hamilton and Bitcoin

What would Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, think about Bitcoin?  Last week I visited the Virgin Islands, sailing past Nevis where he was born, and pondered this question.  The current Secretary of the Treasury, Janet Yellen, has said that she has concerns about cryptocurrencies, yet also sees benefits.  The Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Gary Gensler, teaches a course on Blockchain and Money at MIT, and is an advocate.  The role of the Treasury is to issue money, oversee tax payments, supervise banks, and manage the finances of the government.  The role of the Securities and Exchange Commission is to oversee the raising of money and issuance of securities.  Regulators are struggling with cryptocurrency and how to define it, and thus how to regulate it. 

Currency by definition is a unit of account, store of value, and medium of exchange.  In order to be an effective medium of exchange a currency should be stable, unlike Bitcoin which has been extremely volatile.  Securities, on the other hand, are issued by public and private entities and typically trade on centralized exchanges.  As of 2014, the IRS has stated that capital gains taxation applies to what they refer to as “virtual currency,” or cryptocurrency, supporting it being a security.

Hamilton believed that ownership and economic safety were requisites to liberty, and spearheaded the birth of central banking and the issuance of currency.  In 1790, he launched the Revenue Cutter Service, which ultimately became the Coast Guard, to protect the public against “breaches of the Revenue laws.”  You could say that centralization is about not just control, but also protection.  Bitcoin is decentralized, and proponents value privacy and rail against centralization and governmental control.  Centralization provides protection – if my Visa card is lost and used by someone else, I am not responsible for those purchases.  But if a Bitcoin holder lose a private key for their wallet, their tokens are lost forever and they have no recourse.  Hamilton was very aware of the delicate balance between control and protection.  He stated in his instructions to the Cutter Officers: “(our) countrymen are freemen, and, as such, are impatient of everything that bears the least mark of a domineering spirit.”

Hamilton was an innovator, so if he were alive today, might be a proponent of Bitcoin.  But if he were sailing on a Revenue Cutter today, I am confident he would be on the lookout for pirates smuggling square groupers in exchange for Bitcoin – “keeping a careful eye upon the motions of coasting vessels, without, however, interrupting or embarrassing them unless where some strong ground of suspicion requires that they should be visited and examined.”  And he would reiterate cautious words about the important balance between control and protection.

Nevis, Leeward Islands West Indies

Sources: CNBC, yahoo! finance, IRS, Hamilton First Report on the Public Credit and Letter to Revenue Cutter Officers, June 4th, 1791

Comments from Pawleys – Ukraine, the Fed, and the Stock Markets

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is heartbreaking, and it is absolutely unbelievable that Putin believes he is justified in his actions.  On the bright side of this very dark event, we have seen a global galvanization against his actions, and Europe has united in a way not seen for decades.  Political and military experts have suggested that the conflict may end in a few short weeks, while others see this evolving into a longer-term situation.  So how does this affect the stock markets and what interest rate action the Federal Reserve will take this week?  In an effort to improve transparency and deliver a more consistent interest rate policy, Fed Chair Jerome Powell has signalled that there will be a 25 basis point increase in the Fed Funds rate this week, while previously many anticipated a 50 basis point hike.  He has also indicated that the uncertainty of the situation in the Ukraine, in addition to the unknown impact of sanctions, will cause the Fed to be very data dependent going forward and steer with a steady hand.

Since 1950, there have been twelve Fed rate hike cycles, and in the subsequent 12 months the market has risen an average of +9%.  Only once was the stock market negative, during 1972-1974, when the underlying economy was in recession.  Typically when the economy is growing, the stock market falls about -15% at some point each year, often catalyzed by an unforeseen geo-political event.  When this happens, we recommend that clients who have available cash and the appropriate risk tolerance to add to equity holdings.  We took this action in 2011, 2015, 2018, and 2020.  Last year the market only dipped about -5%, so I noted that we would likely see the market fall around -15% during 2022, which as long as the economy is still healthy, represents an opportunity for many investors.  As long as the Leading Economic Indicators are rising and the U.S. Treasury yield curve is upward sloping , the economy and markets will likely continue to do well 6-12 months in the future.  Both of these conditions exist today, which bodes well for the markets going forward.

The best way to protect a portfolio during uncertain times, in my opinion, is to hold stocks of very high-quality companies with little or no debt, good earnings growth, and rock-solid cash-flow.  Since the founding of Pawleys Investment Advisors in 2010, we have been through very challenging geo-political times, and our portfolios have held up very, very well.  I am watching the situation in Ukraine, the Fed, corporate earnings, and the underlying economy with vigilance.  High quality blue-chip dividend stocks continue to be the single best way to grow wealth and meet financial goals.  It is important to keep in mind any life changes that may affect how portfolios should be managed. Please keep your questions coming – we work hard to keep relevant information flowing, and want to make sure to address what is on everyone’s mind.

Source: S&P

Investing Lessons from Super Bowl XXXIV

The Los Angeles Rams are a different team today than they were 22 years ago, but are we different investors? That year, I managed a team of senior brokers servicing the most actively trading clients of Charles Schwab. My employees had a fun pool for the NFL playoffs, and I was given the wild card Tennessee Titans, who made it to the big game to face the Rams. From October 19th, 1999, through December 31st, 1999 (over 10 short weeks and only a month before the Super Bowl), the NASDAQ soared a scorching +51%. But the market was riddled with new, unproven technology companies going public for the first time. People had faith in the new kids on the block though, and football fans went crazy when another new kid on the block, Kurt Warner, led the Rams to victory – becoming the first undrafted quarterback and the first year-one starter to win the Super Bowl. One of the most talked about things on Monday morning was the stop of the Titans wide receiver one yard short of a game-winning touchdown in the last seconds. But at Schwab, there was even more talk about the commercials, because the appetite that year for new technology companies was voracious. So what happened to the tech companies who aired the most popular ads that year?

You can watch most of the ads on YouTube, and it makes for a fun time (hint: there were LOTS of animals!). Many established companies added a tech slant to their ads, and many newer companies like WebMD and eTrade survived the economic slowdown that would quickly follow. But the majority of poorly funded, unprofitable companies are no longer – names like, Epidemic Marketing, and my favorite unprofitable dotcom posterchild,, all went out of business. Numerous others were bought out and ultimately shuttered or liquidated. The creative media makes ads with fun, punchy story-telling and sexy graphics, but when it comes to successful investing, it is critical to keep a cool head and do the hard math.

Today, celebrities like Matt Damon, Gisele Bundchen, and Tom Brady are promoting companies like, the Singapore-based cryptocurrency application, and FTX, the Bahamian cryptocurrency exchange. Budweiser sold out NFT digital images of vintage beer cans in just an hour last fall, and someone recently paid $450,000 to be Snoop Dogg’s neighbor in his Sandbox Metaverse. These pitches almost all have the “fear of missing out” slant baked-in to drive new business and dollars into crypto, NFT, and Metaverse investments. In 2000, the tech-heavy NASDAQ peaked only a month after the Super Bowl, and then fell a whopping -76% by the autumn of 2002. The 2000 Super Bowl has often been called the “dotcom bowl.” Beware as celebrity endorsers pitch various forms of Crypto, NFT’s, and the Metaverse this Sunday during Super Bowl LVI. If any lesson came from Super Bowl XXXIV it should be, in my opinion, have fun, but avoid letting ads drive your most important investment decisions. During that time after Super Bowl XXXIV a $1,000,000 portfolio of lower-quality tech stocks would have dropped to $240,000, losing a whopping $760,000. I lost a few dollars in my work pool back then, but I didn’t join the hype and chase high-flying tech stocks only to watch my retirement portfolio crash. History does not repeat itself, but I believe it rhymes.