In this episode of MarketFoolery, host Chris Hill and Motley Fool analyst Bill Mann discuss how mere hours after an insurrection in the U.S. Capitol building, democracy won the day. Bill Mann and Chris Hill discuss the stock market’s rise in the aftermath of Wednesday’s events, whether Chinese stocks will be delisted, and the current whereabouts of Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) founder Jack Ma. Plus, Bill shares why he would choose South Africa for his ambassador post.
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This video was recorded on January 7, 2021.
Chris Hill: It’s Thursday, January 7th. Welcome to MarketFoolery. I’m Chris Hill, joining me today, Bill Mann. Good to you see my friend.
Bill Mann: You know, Chris, I made a comment earlier that this is the most optimistic that I’ve felt in a long time, and I really think that we need to declare that today is actually January 1, 2021. Yesterday was the end of 2020.
Hill: Yeah, I could see that happening.
Mann: I don’t care what the calendar says, but yesterday was a hard, terrible day. We are here in the suburbs of Washington DC. It was not only international news, it was local news for us, and we both have spent a lot of time down on the Capitol, and I am hopeful for today that we have turned the page.
Hill: As am I. We’re going to get to that in a second. We’re also going to talk about China, and Bill is going to tell me where Jack Ma is, because I don’t know where he is. But let me just start by time stamping this, because this was something that came up yesterday. We typically do this show between 11:30 AM and 12 noon Eastern. That’s why, on yesterday’s show, Bill Barker and I blindly went about our business and made no mention of what was happening at the U.S. Capitol building, because nothing at that point was happening at the U.S. Capitol building. For anyone feeling unsettled by the events of the last 24 hours, you’re absolutely not alone watching the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. That’s a building I worked in for six years and I have friends and former colleagues who are still there, and I was horrified by the scene, and I was scared for their safety, and yet, like you Bill, [laughs] I take comfort in the fact that when all was said and done, democracy won the day. The mob lost, democracy won the day, and America moves on. By the way, the Nasdaq is hitting an all-time high. We can get to the disconnect between the market and real world events in a second, but I think that’s emblematic of the forward-looking nature of the market and what happened around 04:00 AM when the election was certified.
Mann: When the election was certified. I think it is perhaps cliche to say that the market is a discounting instrument, that it is entirely forward-looking, because we are all aware of times in which things have happened and the market has reacted very badly. Yesterday, it was a disconnect. I actually, for part of the day, was watching through Bloomberg Television, and they had down in one corner, the really horrifying goings on, and they were just talking about bond pricing. The market closed up yesterday. It seems like it will close up again today, and it’s as if the market is saying, “Okay, get on with it. This is the last paroxysm. This is the last temper tantrum we’re going to have. It’s time to move on.”
Hill: I hope the market is right in that regard.
Mann: Let’s vote with the market on this one.
Hill: All right. One of the few smiles I got yesterday was on Twitter when you tweeted, “Bloomberg TV’s monomaniacal focus is unreal. We’re getting reports of shots fired at the Capitol building. Let’s talk about the impact on the treasuries market.”
Mann: [laughs] That was not quite a direct quote, but it was so close to a direct quote that I went with it. Business is as business is, and we try very hard not to be political at The Motley Fool. What we really try not to be is partisan at The Motley Fool, because the reality is that every once in a while, and yesterday was a huge example, politics does intervene. It really does. That is the biggest story for today. Although as a non-partisan show, there are other things to discuss.
Hill: Let’s get to those, because there are two stories that really have been bubbling up throughout the week, and at no point did I bring them up on this show because I knew I was going to be talking to you on Thursday. I just thought, OK, I’m going to save that conversation for when Bill is on the show. Let’s start with this narrative that’s been going on for a little while, but really has heated up this week about Chinese stocks being delisted. What is the state of play right now with that possibility and what does it mean for investors?
Mann: It’s a little unfair for me to say the following, but nobody really entirely knows. There are two paths by which companies are possibly going to be delisted from China. One is an executive order that President Trump signed that said that no U.S. interest can do business with companies that operate with the military in China, and in the U.S., the publicly listed companies that fell under that, and I think there were 31 of them that were put on the executive order, were China Unicom, China Mobile, and China Telecom. Just last week, the NYSE said they were going to delist them because of the executive order, and then they said no, and now they’re saying maybe. There’s a tremendous amount of uncertainty there, but the administration has doubled down, and they are now saying that they believe that Alibaba and Tencent are also a foul of the reason we have put this order out to start with, so they are thinking about putting those on the list as well. The hard thing, Chris, is that this is an executive order, which could certainly, if I look at the calendar, 13 days from now, be reversed.
Hill: Be reversed, yeah.
Mann: It can be reversed. That’s the nature of executive orders, they can be reversed. This is not something that’s been decided by Congress, there’s no legislation in place, it is an executive order. It’s a powerful signal to the Chinese, but I don’t know what the outcome is going to be. None of us do. I don’t suspect that, because Donald Trump has done it, President Biden will say, “Okay, we’re good.” But I would not put all of my money in the basket of President Biden saying we’re just going to undo this.
Hill: I don’t own shares of any of these companies. Let’s say for the moment that I own a few shares of Alibaba. If the stocks get delisted, how does that affect me?
Mann: There is no way. What would end up happening is that those companies would be forced to go into the U.S. and go private transactions. They can’t simply just take your shares from you. There would be, at the end of the day, a transaction that would be forced upon you. I’m not saying it’s all sunshine, but they’re not just going to say, “Well, your shares no longer exist.” That is illegal in the United States of America and it would not be done. What the mechanism is, it is still a little bit unclear, and I think a lot of that, Chris, is being left out there simply because of the timing of where we are. Why come up with the mechanism if 13 days from now the policy may have changed?
Hill: Speaking of Alibaba —
Hill: Last month we saw an article that Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, at some point in 2020, became the wealthiest person in China. Also, Jack Ma was not seen in public nor heard from for weeks on end. You and I chatted a little bit on Slack just about the whole notion of this happening in China versus this happening in America. If Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates all of a sudden is like, “Yeah, two months have gone by and nobody’s seen or heard [laughs] from this person.”
Mann: Come to think of it. [laughs]
Hill: Yeah. I feel like it would’ve been noticed sooner. Has he since been spotted? Because I didn’t see anything yesterday, but earlier in the week, I saw some reports on CNBC that sources close to Jack Ma have reported seeing him. It was a second person thing.
Mann: There is something. Jack Ma, in October, gave a speech at an economic forum in China in which, in a very obsequious way, he was like, “Well, I’m just a guy and these are my observations.” Then criticized the banking system and the banking regulatory system. It really made the wrong people angry in China. They blocked the Ant Financial IPO that was going to happen two days later, it was going to be a $34 billion IPO, one of the largest that has ever happened. Since then, Jack Ma has not been seen or heard from. He has a show, kind of a Shark Tank-type show and he didn’t show up. There was another Alibaba executive that took his place, wiped clean. It’s certainly possible that he is lying low for a while, and it would not be the dumbest thing in the world for him to do. It is also possible that he is under something. There’s always residential surveillance and it’s happened a number of times in China. In 2018, it happened quite a bit, most notably with an actress named Fan Bingbing. She may be definitely the most famous actress in China, therefore one of the most famous actresses in the world. Got into a little bit of a pickle with contracts, one that had been forged, so it seemed like she was evading taxes. That is something that they do in China quite a bit. It would not surprise me that that’s where he is and held, without communications, to give him a little bit of clarity about the types of things that he should and should not opine about when it comes to Chinese banking regulations. That’s where I think he is. I think he’s in residential surveillance, which is every bit as dystopian and horrifying as it sounds.
Hill: I was just going to say that sounds better than some scenarios.
Mann: Sure. If you’re in Hawaii.
Hill: It doesn’t sound like a good situation.
Mann: It doesn’t sound fun. It sounds like a whole lot of no fun.
Hill: To the extent, possible, I want to end today on a slightly lighter note. On yesterday’s show, Barker and I — yesterday’s show, which seems like it was a month ago —
Mann: The last show of 2020, right? [laughs]
Hill: Exactly. Just bear with me. I won’t go through the whole thing. But long story short, Barker and I were talking about a scenario whereby you’re elected president of the United States, and since we’ve known you for so long and have been friends and colleagues for so long, you reward us with a cushy ambassador post.
Mann: Because you supported my campaign too.
Hill: Exactly. I came up with the campaign slogan, “A Man for Our Time.” By the way, when I laid out that scenario, the whole thing to Barker, and said, where would you want to go? He said, first of all, I don’t think Bill wants to be president, I think he would be sworn in and then he would immediately resign and then he would ask the new president to give him an ambassador post.
Mann: That’s right, 100%.
Hill: That was your reaction when I told you yesterday [laughs].
Mann: I don’t want to be a president [laughs].
Hill: I’m happy to put Barker in the uncomfortable position of being president and he rewards us, but where are you picking?
Mann: South Africa, 100%.
Hill: You’ve traveled to more countries than anyone I know, you’re picking South Africa?
Hill: Tell me why.
Mann: Absolutely. Because it is a country that has the greatest level of really unbelievable mind-bending nature. It is a place where things actually happen. It’s actually a quite important country to the United States. It’s not entirely cushy, but it’s at least partially cushy.
Hill: I would believe the accommodations for the U.S. ambassador to South Africa are probably pretty cushy.
Mann: This the other thing I was thinking about. If I had to guess, I’m pretty sure that you want to follow Art Rooney’s footsteps and go to Ireland.
Hill: Yes, correct.
Mann: Was that yours?
Hill: That was mine.
Mann: When you told me the scenario, the one I thought of for Bill Barker was that Bill Barker would like to go to New Zealand.
Hill: You’re close. I was thinking he might pick Bermuda, but he chose Australia.
Mann: That’s not cushy. Are you going to trust Bill Barker with Australia?
Hill: I’m not president.
Mann: I’m sorry, I need to apologize to the New Zealander, the Kiwis who are listening right now. I wouldn’t trust him with Australia.
Hill: Okay. It’s your call, you are the president.
Mann: I’m president. [laughs]
Hill: Clearly, I can be trusted with Ireland.
Mann: Clearly, you can be trusted with Ireland. I will buy that. By the way, this is something that we obviously need to start making happen.
Hill: Barker being president?
Hill: Oh, God. [laughs] We’re going to wrap up here. Always good talking to you, my friend.
Mann: Thank you so much, Chris.
Hill: As always, people on the program may have interest in the stocks they talk about and The Motley Fool may have formal recommendations for or against, so don’t buy or sell stocks based solely on what you hear. That’s going to do it with this edition of MarketFoolery. This show is mixed by Dan Boyd. I’m Chris Hill, thanks for listening, we’ll see you on Monday.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.
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