Human nature is an endlessly curious thing. I noticed a new example of this just yesterday.
Since we are sheltering-in-place, we permit ourselves very few trips out into the big bad world. I took it upon myself to do a grocery run yesterday. Since this is a rare privilege, I decided to drive not to the close-by Whole Foods in Palo Alto, but the substantially larger one in Los Altos.
It was, as usual, full of people…………but not food. I noted with gallows humor amusement that in the otherwise near-empty produce section, there was an abundance of three-foot long aloe vera leaves. Hardly the stuff of a sumptuous weekend meal.
The real shock came for me when I went into the aisle with baking products. My wife wanted to cook some fresh bread, and we didn’t have any bread flour in the house. Imagine my surprise when I saw nothing but multiple rows of empty shelves. No flour. No bread flour. No nothing. Has everyone decided to become a baker all of a sudden? I can understand a store being low on toilet paper, but…………..flour??????
I gathered up a smattering of products that they managed to have in stock and started to head home. But here’s the strange thing: there’s actually a perfectly good grocery store that I hardly ever go to that’s near our house. It’s at one of those retail locations that always seemed doomed. You know the kind. A store will be there for a few months, and then close. And then a different one, and then that closes. And so on. It almost feels creepy going into such a place, since you figure it’s cursed or something.
Indeed, it was so important to the town fathers of Palo Alto that there be a grocery store in this location, that they demanded the landlord of the complex put a store there, or else he would get fined $5,000 a day. So The Fresh Market was there. It failed. And then Sprouts was there. And it failed. And, most recently, the uncreatively named The Market opened up.
It’s a perfectly nice store. They’re well stocked, have a good selection, and it’s very clean. Perhaps one of the reason it’s so clean is because it’s uncontaminated by customers. People are just so used to going to Whole Foods, that they don’t bother, even though The Market is closer to their home. I am one of the guilty parties.
I passed by The Market on my way home, with my way-too-empty grocery backs, and I realized that, unlikely as it seemed, perhaps they would have this holy grail of bread flour I was seeking. So although I had passed the entrance to their parking lot, I pulled over on the street and walked into the store, expecting the same familiar scene of empty shelves.
How surprised I was at what I saw instead. It was just like always. It might as well have been January. The store was glistening clean, packed to the rafters with produce and dry goods, and hardly a customer in sight. I went to the baking products aisle. Yep, all the bread flour you could ever want. You could feed an army with their stock.
I was so confounded by this, that after I checked out, I said I wanted to see the manager, and I made clear it wasn’t because there was any kind of problem. “How about telling the entire city you actually have stuff? You guys could be making a fortune!”
What I wanted to try to get across is that the poor souls pushing their empty carts around Whole Foods could represent a horde of lifetime customers if they could just coax them in. After all, if their next three or four shopping trips were at The Market, they might decide: screw Whole Foods. At least this grocery store has freakin’ groceries.
Lastly, on a totally unrelated note, I stumbled purely by chance on one of BDI’s old posts. Here’s how he concluded it. I truly wonder if BDI is somewhere on the astral plane, shaking his head at what’s going on right now. Surely he would smile at his prophecy. We were lucky to even know him.
The main thing I’d like to point out is that all four of these rough ragged roads do indeed take us down the inescapable putrid paltry path of severe economic stagnation, or perhaps potentially much worse. Whether it be via Stockman’s debt bust day of reckoning, Rickard’s zero sum competitive devaluations, Mauldin’s necessary austere fiscal contraction, or Dalio’s long orderly deleveraging, it all ends emphatically with plain people in pain. The stock market will rapidly reflect this inevitable economic end game in unavoidable unwavering swift short order. In the end, you simply can not print your way to prosperity, same as it ever was.