Each February I attend the World Ag Expo in Tulare, California. Located halfway between Fresno and Bakersfield, California, is the heartbeat and breadbasket of agriculture of the west. I stood in line for 45 minutes to enter this massive event with over 1,400 exhibitors and 100,000 in attendance. Within these fences there were displays of cutting-edge innovative technologies related to production agriculture, animal science and all aspects in between. There was an energy within this crowd of optimism as the economy was strong and the future was bright. This representation of the backbone of America was ambitious but kind, as greetings were met by looking one in the eye and statements like, “you go first, thank you, excuse me, after you, yes m’am and no sir” permeated the air. I was reminded of a refreshing kindness I was seeing lived out in this snapshot of America. I think it is best summed up in a principle we tried to instill in our kids of this simple phrase, “Consider the preciousness of others.”
Global pandemic, Coronavirus, projected infection and death rates, social distancing, 14-day isolation period are now the headlines of every newspaper and news show. It’s been a mere 45 days since I walked the streets of the World Ag Expo. During my trip to California I met with a client and we discussed a 30 percent earning year in the market, expansion, projections and newfound opportunities. I had another client discussing the liquidation of a ranch going to the market as a 10–14 percent return was easily achieved with relative safety. “Oh, how quickly things can change.”
Mark Dotzour, retired economist from Texas A&M is a man I trust. Over the years I have attended the National Land Conference with the purpose of hearing his analysis of the state of the economy. Recently, I attended a phone conference with Dr. Dotzour to understand the impact of the coronavirus on the economy and my focus—the ranch industry. My summary: lightning has struck twice with the oil war between OPEC and Russia driving oil prices to a low $20 per barrel and a “Black Swan” event. A Black Swan event has a very low probability of happening, it is unforeseen but has dramatic economic effects. The Coronavirus is a Black Swan; it will have enormous economic effects and the extent of its impact is still yet to be seen. Because of our close ties to China, this pandemic has resulted not only in supply shock as goods cannot be shipped, but demand shock to the U.S. economy shut down as a result of the quarantine. I also listened to a podcast with Jim Rickards, bestselling author, attorney and global speculator. His view of this market is dramatic as well. He believes its impact globally could surpass 2008 and reflect the year of 1929. Bottom line, we’re in a serious economic situation. If you’re over leveraged, clean up debt. Hard assets, such as land, quickly become the safest place to have money. These great economic minds are seeking clarity as this situation is unprecedented, complex and troublesome.
So, what do we do? I loved Jim Rickards’ advice, “Be a good neighbor” or in my words, “Consider the preciousness of others.” When the physical is unknown, many of us turn to philosophical answers; I turn to the only source I truly trust. In summary, Matthew 22:35–40 says, “Love God and love your neighbor.” Folks, this is all we got. As uncertainty abounds, there is fear in the air, and we’re not only concerned for ourselves, but, deeply concerned for the health and financial wellbeing of anyone close to us. The only peace I find is knowing the creator of the universe is bigger than Covid-19. He loves you, and you can find a great promise in Psalm 91. Rest in this peace, care for your neighbors, there is hope, and we will come out stronger than ever before.