Dow down 76 points yesterday. Gold going nowhere.
We were down in the subway in Paris last night. At about midnight. At the École Militaire station.
All of a sudden, we heard screaming. Girls. Shrieking more than screaming. Not in trouble. But not laughing either.
It had been a long day with considerable excitement. The taxi drivers are on strike. They are trying to protect their turf from tech transport startup Uber.
When we arrived at Montparnasse station in the morning, there was no taxi waiting.
Out on the streets were men with egg cartons. When they saw a strikebreaker or an Uber car, they pelted it with eggs – or worse.
One Uber car – reportedly carrying an American couple with a small child – was struck by a rock, its windshield shattered. Others were roughly handled by mobs of striking taxi drivers.
“Over there!” one of the mob shouted as we left the station.
A group of them headed off to do their mischief, as we dragged our bags down the hill to the Métro. The mob had formed into a demonstration, with red union banners and the familiar chants of Parisian demonstrators.
They headed up the street toward the train station, perhaps 500 of them, accompanied by a few police cars.
“There is something so old-fashioned about it,” said a neighbor. “It brings back memories of the 1960s, when the workers still had some bargaining power. Now, it just makes us nostalgic.”
The ultimate effect of the strike, as with the last taxi strike when we were here, was to undermine the taxi drivers even more. We got an Uber to take us to the airport this morning.
“France is dead,” said a young woman we know.
We have heard this from so many people, we’re beginning to think it can’t be true.
Maybe it is time to buy France, not sell it short. Maybe people are beginning to give up on the economic model of the last 30 years.
We say this after noticing an article in a major magazine. In apparent desperation, the writers asked: “And if we gave free enterprise a try?”
Almost everyone you talk to says France is in deep trouble.
“It is impossible to work,” says a gardener we know.
“I’m 62. I like working. I want to work. But the way the system operates, anything I earn now goes into the social security system. I don’t get a penny.”
“Why not just work for cash?” we suggested, drawing on our experience as a scofflaw in Argentina.
“It’s not allowed. I would pay a fine… about 5,000 euro. And the person who gives me the money would pay a fine of 35,000 euro. And could go to jail.”
“How would anyone know?”
“Are you kidding? This is France. A neighbor would denounce me. He’d see me happily working. He would say I was taking a job away from someone else.”
Young people with education and ambition are leaving. London, by population, is the fourth largest French city in the world.
One friend commented:
It’s terrible. I need to put in a new septic tank. I was just going to get an old friend to put it in. But now they don’t have septic systems. They have ‘micro-water treatment stations.’
Of course, they look for all the world like old-fashioned septic systems. But they cost a lot more and you need to get engineers to draw up plans, and you have to have them approved, which means inspectors have to come out.
And you wait and wait for them, because, of course, they’re on vacation.
We could easily get the work done. But if a nosey neighbor or inspector sees us doing it, without all the paperwork, it will be a disaster.
We gave some advice: “Do it at night.”
“In France, only half the population works,” concluded our friend.
“The other half tries to stop them.”
With so many people trying to keep anything from happening, it’s no wonder many things don’t get done.
Rat control is, apparently, among them. Down in the subway station, near the screaming girls, trotted a big, gray rat.
“It’s Francois Hollande,” shouted one of the girls.
Jim Rogers is buying Russian stocks.
The famed investor, and cofounder with George Soros of the Quantum Fund, says that the low prices on offer there make the Russian stock market more attractive right now than the U.S.
I see Japan still down 50% from its highs, China down 30%, and Russia the most hated market in the world, so I have bought all three in recent years and weeks.
Why should I buy the U.S., which is wildly popular and expensive, when I can buy Russia, which is hated and cheap? There is nothing wrong with buying U.S. stocks if you know what you are doing. For me, it’s easier to buy stocks cheap.
Last December, in the middle of the ruble crisis… and with the Russian stock market in free fall… I said that 2015 would be a “banner year” for beaten down Russian stocks.
As you can see from the chart above, so far in 2015, the big Russian stock market ETF, the Market Vectors Russia Trust (NYSE:RSX), is up 24% in dollar terms versus a 2% gain for the S&P 500.
Much of the attention has been focused on the big rally in Chinese stocks this year. But of all the major country stock market ETFs, RSX is the best performer.
As Bill likes to say, “The world turns. Cheap markets tend to become more expensive. Expensive markets tend to become cheap.”