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Seventh Heaven: The Tech Titans Defining Tomorrow

As artificial intelligence begins to revolutionize knowledge and service industries, a new set of tech stocks titled the “Magnificent Seven or Mag 7” has emerged to replace the once dominant FAANG stock narrative (Facebook (Meta), Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google (Alphabet)).  Netflix has been removed and Tesla and Nvidia added to arrive at Mag 7 meme portfolio. The Mag 7 tech companies have all been performing extremely well, led by Nvidia whose shares have nearly quadrupled within the last twelve months. A lot of the buzz around the Mag 7 performance relates to the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, particularly Nvidia which is the leading chipmaker for AI applications.

As the chart depicts below, the Mag 7 has been a major contributor to the performance of the S&P 500 index market benchmark as well as the NASDAQ QQQ index.


The NASDAQ reports that year-to-date through July 28, 2023, the Mag 7 gained 65.6% while the remaining 493 stocks in the S&P 500 gained a mere 7.3% as a group. The Mag 7 collectively have gained more than three times the S&P 500 as a whole of 20.5%, and more than 8.5 times the other 493 stocks over this period.  This recent performance has undoubtedly caught the attention of both experienced investors and traders, emboldened by AI’s potential to navigate us to a new era of technological innovation and human prosperity.

In ancient cosmology, the seventh heaven corresponded to the seven classical planets – the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn.  Saturn, the seventh planet, represented the outer limits of the material or known world to the ancients.  The Roman god Saturn came to represent this Golden Age of abundance, wealth, and peace.  Many technological experts believe that developing AI technologies is a gateway to a new “seventh heaven” and that the Mag 7, tech titans, or gods, will define tomorrow and the age to come.

Let’s begin our cosmological analysis by reviewing the composition of the Mag 7 and their business prospects before moving on to considering the group’s valuation metrics.

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Magnificent 7 Stocks

Apple: Recognized for its iconic products such as the iPhone, iPad, MacBook, etc. Apple’s array of high-quality devices, software, and services fosters a devoted customer base, resulting in consistent revenue growth (some people buy a new iPhone every year).

Amazon: Specializes in e-commerce, grocery stores, and cloud computing services. Amazon asserts major dominance in online retail services and has a consistent customer base which fuels its strong financial performance.

Alphabet (Google): Owns one of the world’s most well-known and used search engines, Google. Also specializes in online advertising, data analytics, and Google Drive services.

Meta: Formerly known as Facebook, Meta runs social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. They have improved and redefined social media usage and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Microsoft: Microsoft specializes in computer software, gaming services, cloud services, etc. They are the developers of Windows, one of the most used computer operating systems globally.

Nvidia: A tech company that specializes in designing and producing graphics processing units (GPUs), artificial intelligence computing, and virtual simulations. Nvidia’s growth as a company has grown exponentially over the last five years due to its high sales and earnings.

Tesla: One of the first EV (electric vehicle) manufacturers. Specializes in electric vehicles and renewable energy solutions (solar panels and energy storage/batteries). Tesla’s innovation and increased sales makes it an attractive investment for many.

We previously noted the early potential of AI technologies in our January 2023 featured article “Where Have All the Good Workers Gone?” suggesting that “…the technology sector is busily working on solutions to these labor shortages, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.”  At that time, we recommended “…the best way for investors to express a purposeful view on the future emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning is through the leading technology heroes, like Microsoft and Apple, who have massive distribution capabilities through their existing software and hardware product suites and business relationships across sectors. We like iShares U.S. Technology ETF (IYW).  This ETF provides exposure to the leading U.S. electronics, computer software and hardware, and IT companies.”  Importantly, IYW’s allocation to the Mag 7 is dominated by overweight positions to tech stalwarts AAPL 18.1% and MSFT 16.4%.  IYW also holds positions in GOOG 5.5%, NVDA 4.8% and META 3.8%, but has no allocation to either AMZN or TSLA.

While recognizing the long-term promise of AI, we were perhaps overly concerned about market conditions at that time given the Fed hiking campaign and possible near-term recessionary conditions.   With the benefit of hindsight, we missed an opportunity to capture “titanic” profits on this emerging AI narrative/Mag 7 meme. If we fast forward, we see the following price performance of the Mag 7 and IYW year-to-date through August 25, 2023:

The chart shows that the top two performers were NVIDIA up 215% and Meta up 137% year-to-date while the diversified IYW ETF gained a respectable 44%.

Potential Valuation Concerns

As the Mag 7’s share prices have surged, there are growing concerns about overvaluation and their stock prices reaching speculative levels. Whether these companies are overvalued or not is debatable. There are many fundamental investors that acknowledge AI’s promising future that are applying traditional approaches to Mag 7 valuations.  Many institutional investors and registered investment advisors, including Servant Financial, look to Morningstar, a leading Chicago-based financial services company, with regard to overall market and individual stock valuations.  Servant Financial has utilized the VanEck Morningstar Wide Moat ETF (MOAT) in its model client portfolios for many years to obtain exposure to high, quality domestic equities.

Morningstar’s forward-looking, rigorous equity research process seeks first to identify companies that have sustainable competitive advantages, or moats, around their businesses that are expected to lead to high returns on invested capital.  A company’s moat can be comprised of switching costs, intangible assets, network effect, cost leadership, and efficient scale.  Morningstar considers a company’s economic moat rating when forecasting future cash flows and discounting those future cash flows to arrive at a current intrinsic per-share value for each company.  Importantly, Morningstar has concluded that each of the Mag 7 are great businesses with sustainable competitive advantages, i.e. moats, and are worthy of investment at the right price.

Morningstar utilizes their economic moat ratings and fair value estimates to identify 40 companies trading at the widest discounts to their estimate of intrinsic or fair value to include in the Moat index. The Moat index has a staggered rebalance in which it is divided into two sub-portfolios, each with 20 stocks. One sub-portfolio reconstitutes in December and June; the other in March and September.  In the most recent reconstitution of the index on June 16, 2023, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft were kicked out of the Moat index due to valuation.

Morningstar’s U.S. Market Strategist was interviewed by earlier this month on the Mag 7 businesses.  As depicted in the table below, only Alphabet (GOOG) was determined by Morningstar analysts to be undervalued while four of the remaining Mag 7, Microsoft (MSFT), Meta Platforms (META), (AMZN) and Tesla (TSLA), were viewed as fairly valued. Two Mag 7 stocks, Apple (AAPL) and Nvidia (NVDA), were considered overvalued by Morningstar.  Accordingly, only GOOG was retained as a top ten holding in the MOAT ETF with a 2.8% allocation.

We embraced the power of AI by enlisting ChatGPT’s assistance for this article.   Chat GPT stands for Chat Generative Pre-Trained Transformer and was developed by an AI research company, Open AI. Open AI’s mission is “to ensure that artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity.”    ChatGPT is an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot technology that can process our natural human language and generate a response.

We asked ChatGPT a couple of questions.  First of all, we were struggling with a title for this article, so we asked ChatGPT for headline recommendations.  The headline above was its second attempt.  Secondly, we queried how artificial intelligence was being used by investment advisory businesses.  This query ultimately led us to the BUZZ NextGen AI US Sentiment Leaders Index.  We were surprised to find an ETF that is focused on identifying meme stocks through the use of artificial intelligence.   Here is their hyperbole-laden pitch:

It’s a New Era of Investing!

Social media and mobile technology have fundamentally changed the way we engage with stocks. There’s a ton of online chatter every day. Changing sentiment and our collective views clearly impact their value. With BUZZ, we use AI to monitor 15 million online posts a month to measure which stocks have the most positive investor sentiment. Then, we rank the top 75 stocks each month to feature in the BUZZ NextGen AI US Sentiment Leaders Index™. Leading-edge science and game-changing insights are why savvy investors have their eyes on BUZZ.

We were curious whether the new era BUZZ had outperformed our IYW long-term pick-to-click.  Despite holding each of the Mag 7 (NVDA 3.5%, GOOG 3.2%, AAPL 3.1%, MSFT 3.1%, AMZN 3.0%, META 3.0% and TSLA 3.0%), the VanEck Social Sentiment ETF (BUZZ) significantly underperformed IYW with a price gain of 28% compared to IYW’s 44% appreciation year-to-date through August 25, 2023 and MOAT’s 20% gain over the same period. The BUZZ ETF has fewer holdings at 75 stocks compared to IYW’s 136 but was more diffuse with respect to the buzz around the Mag 7 or AI meme stocks as it didn’t make sizeable bets on any of these titans.  The BUZZ ETF has only about $60 million of assets under management compared to $10.9 billion for the more established IYW ETF.

We were concerned about speculative excesses in the market valuations of Mag 7 and noted weakening economic conditions, so we placed a small tactical short position (1% to 2%) in ProShares Short QQQ ETF (PSQ) in mid-July for risk tolerant accounts invested in the Core-Satellite Moderate and Aggressive model portfolios.  PSQ targets daily investment results, before fees and expenses, that correspond to the inverse (-1x) of the daily performance of the Nasdaq-100 Index.  PSQ is short each of the Mag 7 stocks with its top ten short holdings comprised as follows:

The Mag 7 represent a new era of tech titans.  Each of these companies has one or more sustainable competitive advantage, or moats, that are characteristic of great businesses to own and hold over the long-term.  Many of these tech titans have business plans to utilize the power of AI to transform industries. While concerns about overvaluation and market sustainability will inevitably wax and wane, this heavenly seven will continue to expand and define the human experience and the cosmos. Whether they will maintain their magnificence is unknown, so we’ll continue to evaluate the Mag 7 for investment purposes based upon rigorous fundamental analysis in accordance with the father of observational astronomy Galileo Galilei’s dictum:

“Measure what is measurable and make measurable what is not.”

Heavenly Bonus

Saturn will be visible to the right of the Super Blue Full Moon on August 30-31, 2023













Bitcoinalization: The Coming Institutionalization of Bitcoin

The digital economy is an umbrella term that describes how traditional brick-and-mortar activities are being disrupted or altered by the Internet and blockchain technologies. The institutionalization of digital assets throughout history has been driven by various factors, including shifts in investor risk preferences or changes in economic conditions, but most importantly by advancements and convergences in technology and related network effects. Network effects are a phenomenon whereby a product or service gains additional economic value as more people use it.  Think of social media networks Facebook and Twitter, e-commerce platforms like Amazon or Apple’s app store and iPhone, or digital payment platforms like PayPal, Venmo, or Bitcoin.

The institutionalization of “tangible” digital assets began with the proliferation of digital real estate assets over the last few decades. The emergence of these new real assets has been driven by a massive secular movement from analog to digital systems and the development of real assets and infrastructure to support the digitization of economic activities and an ever-increasing array of new digital technologies. Below are a couple of examples of ubiquitous digital real estate assets that have emerged over recent decades:

Cell Towers: Cell towers are perhaps one of the earliest examples of new digital real assets that have undergone the institutionalization process. As mobile communication technology has developed to meet business and consumer demands for greater bandwidth and rich features, a massive infrastructure buildout has occurred to support network reliability and responsiveness. Cell towers provide the infrastructure necessary for wireless communication networks, and they generate revenue through leasing agreements with telecommunication service providers.

Institutional investors recognized the combination of stable income and the growth potential of cell towers and began investing in the asset class. Tower companies, REITs, and infrastructure funds were formed to acquire and manage portfolios of cell towers. We witnessed the successful development of this nascent asset class in the mid-2000s through a family office advisory relationship for which we oversaw a private equity fund exit of a private cell tower business to Crown Castle International (NYSE: CCI) for $5.8 billion and very rich multiples on invested capital and tower cash flows. These entities focus on leasing tower space to telecommunication companies, effectively creating a stream of relatively stable and growing rental income. Co-location of cellular equipment from multiple carriers on a single tower created interesting upside optionality and ultimately outsized returns for early cell-tower owners and investors.

Data Centers: With the rapid growth of the digital economy, data centers have emerged as a critical infrastructure asset necessary to support the increased digitization of communication and storage and retrieval of exponentially larger data elements. Data centers provide the physical infrastructure to store and process large amounts of digital information. Institutional investors recognized the increasing demand for data storage and processing capabilities, leading to the development of specialized data center investment firms and funds.  Like cell towers, specialized public corporations and REITs were formed to hold these data center assets, such as Equinix, Inc. (Nasdaq: EQIX) and Digital Realty Trust, Inc. (NYSE: DLR)

Concurrently, Amazon was developing its own data center expertise and infrastructure in support of its online book-selling business and expansion into other consumer products. Ultimately, Amazon was able to monetize its cloud-computing and data center expertise by building out a hugely profitable outsourced data center management business within (NYSE: AMZN) called Amazon Web Service, or AWS for short. This unique company’s specific transformation illustrates the powerful confluence of learning curves, technological reinforcement, economies of scale, and/or network convergence that can be associated with the digitization of the economy.

The institutionalization of these two asset classes involved the entry of large-scale institutional investors, such as pension funds, insurance companies, venture capital, and private equity firms, who brought significant capital and professional management expertise. They often acquired substantial portfolios of assets within the specific asset class, creating economies of scale and professionalizing operations.

The institutionalization process typically involves the standardization of investment structures, the development of specialized investment vehicles (for example, the more tax-efficient REIT structure for holding qualifying real estate assets), and the establishment of industry best practices. Very often adjustments in the existing regulatory framework and industry practices are necessary to bridge compliance gaps. The institutionalization process generally contributes to increased liquidity, transparency, and stability within an asset class, ultimately making it more attractive to a wider range of investors.  The REITs cited earlier are examples of these institutional market forces.  I think one important lesson from this history is that you want to be an early investor in these emerging digital asset classes prior to the formation of public REIT structures that democratized the asset to the masses.

Importantly, smaller, and more nimble retail investors have a distinct advantage over institutional investors if they can identify the approaching institutionalization of an asset class in advance of the institutional capital pools and have the fortitude to invest in an emerging digital asset in the early adopter phase of the S-curve adoption patterns commonly taught in university business classes. The early adopter phase is typically after proof of concept but prior to mass market adoption and the large institutional capital flows.

As we’ve all experienced firsthand with the emergence of mobile communication enabled by cell towers and cloud computing enabled by data centers, the adoption rate of digital innovations tends to be non-linear.  Adoption is generally slow at first driven by a small group of innovators. Adoption rates then  torise rapidly as early adopters and then the early and later majority come on board in the mass market phase before adoption flattens out in the maturation phase.  These traditional S-curve innovation adoption rate concepts are graphically depicted below:

Levels of Adoption: Solution Search/Innovators: <2.5%, Proof of Concept/Early Adopters: 2.5% to 13.5%, System Integration/Early Majority: 13.5% to 50.0%, Market Expansion/Late Majority: 50.0% to 84%, and Laggards – last 16%

Source: Rocky Mountain Institute, “Harnessing the Power of S-Curves”


According to a June 2022 analysis of Bitcoin User Adoption by Blockware Solutions, somewhere between 1% to 3% of the global population are bitcoin users/holders.  This is a broad approximation because one on-chain entity could be a single person that self-custodies their bitcoin or it could be an exchange, custodian desk, or other institution that represents thousands or potentially millions of individuals.

Blockware Solutions’ analysis puts Bitcoin somewhere in the Early Adopters phase in the S-curve paradigm. System Integration is the next phase in the cycle and with it comes mass-market adoption.  From this standpoint, bitcoin is at a critically important inflection point in its history.  We’ve “coined” this coming wave of institutional adoption as bitcoinalization.

Before going into our investment case further, let’s look at the institutionalization process of a purely digital networked business more like bitcoin and distributed ledger technology (DLT) to supplement the foregoing tangible cell tower and data center examples. Some important patterns and potential impediments for future Bitcoin user adoption may become apparent.

One technology-enabled asset class institutionalization process that can be seen as an analogy for Bitcoin and DLT is the emergence of the Internet and the subsequent development of the digital advertising industry.  As can be seen from the digital real estate examples, the Internet revolutionized the way information is shared, communicated, and accessed. The World-Wide Web provided a platform for new business models and created opportunities for new and innovative asset classes. One of these asset classes is digital advertising, which grew alongside the expansion of the Internet and digital real estate assets and infrastructure.

Correspondingly, bitcoin and DLT would not be possible without the Internet and associated global communication and data processing networks.  Bitcoin and DLT have transformed the financial landscape by introducing decentralized digital currencies and distributed ledger systems. Bitcoin, as the first and most well-known cryptocurrency, paved the way for the institutionalization of digital assets and the exploration of blockchain-based technologies or distributed ledgers.

Similarities between the institutionalization processes of digital advertising and Bitcoin/DLT include:

Disintermediation: Both digital advertising and Bitcoin/DLT aim to eliminate intermediaries, reducing the need for trusted third parties. In digital advertising, the traditional intermediaries, advertising agencies, were bypassed as digital platforms enabled direct connections between advertisers and consumers. Similarly, Bitcoin and DLT aim to create a trustless system where transactions can occur directly between participants without financial intermediaries, such as banks or other financial institutions.

Growing Institutional Interest: Over time, digital advertising gained significant institutional interest as advertisers and marketers recognized its potential for more targeted, cost-effective advertising, and more discernable return and payback metrics. Similarly, Bitcoin and DLT have attracted venture capital firms, technology companies, and other traditionally early investors that recognized the potential for decentralized finance, secure, immutable transaction processing, and other benefits of blockchain technology.

Initial Skepticism and Regulation: Both digital advertising and Bitcoin/DLT faced initial skepticism and regulatory challenges. Digital advertising faced scrutiny, and regulatory frameworks needed to adapt to new forms of online advertising to address consumer protection and privacy concerns. Similarly, bitcoin and cryptocurrencies encountered market skepticism and continue to face regulatory scrutiny as the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and other financial regulators seek to better understand and regulate this new asset class.

Importantly, it’s in this regulatory oversight where we have just recently seen a potential framework developing for much-needed regulatory clarity. The SEC has long come under fire for its approach of regulating crypto markets by enforcement, rather than providing proactive, definitive regulatory guidance. After arguably being found asleep at the wheel in the aftermath of the FTX debacle, the SEC has become a more consistently active regulator. In a watershed event, the SEC sued Coinbase (NASDAQ: COIN) and Binance, two of the world’s largest crypto exchanges, in June 2023 for allegedly breaching SEC securities regulations. The SEC alleged Coinbase traded at least 13 crypto assets that the SEC deemed to be securities which should have been registered with the SEC. (Ironically, the SEC reviewed Coinbase’s initial public offering of securities in April 2021 and did not object to the Company’s public listing.)  The SEC accused Binance of offering 12 cryptocurrencies without registering them as securities.

The SEC’s litigation claims center around whether crypto tokens represent investment contracts and/or securities. Given the technological innovations and new business models involved with crypto assets, this is a substantially gray area that will ultimately be decided by the courts. Just last week a judge ruled in a split decision in the SEC’s earlier lawsuit against Ripple that Ripple’s XRP token was a security sometimes.

Although there has been a long-running debate as to whether some cryptos are securities, there has been very little argument from the SEC that Bitcoin is a security. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) ruled in 2018 that “virtual currencies, such as bitcoin, have been determined to be commodities under the Commodity Exchange Act (CEA)” in its Bitcoin Basics brochure.

Despite this seeming clarity for bitcoin’s treatment as a commodity, the SEC has denied dozens of registrations for spot bitcoin exchange-traded funds (ETFs) of commodity-based trust shares over the last few years.  Paradoxically, the SEC has allowed numerous ETFs based on bitcoin futures to trade on regulated exchanges but has denied every spot bitcoin application that has been submitted to date. The SEC has often cited that the underlying spot market of Bitcoin is subject to fraud and manipulation. Since the derivatives market reflects spot prices, it is difficult to see the SEC logic in allowing the futures-based ETFs but not ETFs based on the underlying bitcoin.

However, it seems that regulatory clarity is about to arrive for Bitcoin with the recent submission by Blackrock (NYSE: BLK) for a spot Bitcoin ETF.  We see the SEC approval of a spot bitcoin ETF akin to the REIT structure that democratized cell tower and data center ownership to the masses. Blackrock is the world’s largest investment manager at $9 trillion in assets under management (AUM).  It’s CEO, Larry Fink, was an early skeptic and once declared, “Bitcoin is nothing more than an index for money laundering.”  Funny how profit incentives and client defections to your competitors providing Bitcoin access will change your tune.

On July 13, the SEC added BlackRock’s spot Bitcoin ETF application to its list of proposed rulemaking filings for the NASDAQ stock market. This move may signal the SEC’s intent to take the application more seriously after BlackRock added a “surveillance-sharing” agreement with U.S. crypto exchange Coinbase to its updated application. Blackrock’s competitors Fidelity Investments, WisdomTree, Invesco, VanEck, and others have followed suit and filed similar “surveillance-sharing” amendments to their respective bitcoin ETF applications. Several of these other bitcoin ETFs were recently added to the SEC’s review docket.

It is particularly interesting to note that both the NASDAQ exchange and CBOE are partnering with Coinbase to provide the market surveillance function to address SEC concerns about monitoring of fraud. The Coinbase name was originally omitted in Blackrock and other bitcoin ETF applications, possibly due to the SEC’s wide-ranging enforcement action against Coinbase.

In addition to the spot bitcoin ETFs, there have been several other positive institutional moves that may also promote bitcoinalization:

  • Not to be left out, rumors abound that Vanguard ($7.6 trillion in AUM) may potentially take over the Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (GBTC) and convert it into a spot ETF.
  • Last September, Fidelity Investments, Schwab and Citadel announced they were teaming up to launch a new crypto exchange called EDX.
  • Fidelity Investments is no stranger to bitcoin. Fidelity has been leading the institutional adoption of bitcoin. For example, Fidelity has its own bitcoin mining operation. And since early last year, Fidelity has enabled their 73,000 retirement plan clients to make bitcoin allocations with 401K plans where Fidelity acts as the custodian or administrator.
  • More recently Fidelity Investments began rolling out Fidelity Crypto® capabilities to its Fidelity Institutional Registered Investment Advisory (RIA) network and family office clients by providing access to Fidelity Digital Assets custody and execution services within the RIA Wealthscape platform.


All the foregoing developments are elegantly summarized in the following chart from Led by Blackrock and Fidelity, the following institutions which control some $27 trillion in assets under management are queuing up to invest in a scarce 21 million bitcoin (19.4 million in existence and 1.6 million left to be mined).

Considering the foregoing, we will be taking the following actions on behalf of our Servant Financial clients:

  1. Doubling portfolio allocations to the bitcoin sector – initial client allocations based on account risk tolerances were to Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (OTC: GBTC) ranging from 1% to 2% and Hut8 Mining (NASDAQ: HUT) of 1.5% to 2.0%,. HUT’s stock price has doubled in the last 45 days on the bitcoin rally on news of Blackrock’s ETF filing and company specific merger developments.  We’ve simply doubled the HUT allocation in more risk-tolerant client accounts that hold this security without making additional share purchases.  Concerning the direct bitcoin allocation, we are withholding action on any additional GBTC allocations until we’ve had an opportunity to meet with Fidelity Investments on the Fidelity Crypto® integration for registered investment advisors.  Initially, Fidelity will not be charging custodial fees for cold storage of client Bitcoin or Ethereum.  Over time, Fidelity intends to charge 0.4% for Bitcoin and Ethereum custody. GBTC charges a 2% annual management fee.
  2. Continuing Professional Education – taking an online course for a certificate in blockchain and digital assets for financial advisors offered by Digital Asset Council for Financial Professionals.
  3. Ongoing securities research – analysis of other leading “picks and shovels” companies in the bitcoin and blockchain ecosystem like HUT. We are beta-testing a more speculative pure-play model invested in six companies for one client.
  4. Convergence of bitcoin miners and their high-performance computing capabilities with artificial intelligence applications – it’s a story for another day but a convergence of artificial intelligence and bitcoin mining/high-performance computing is anticipated. It seems that bitcoin mining equipment is uniquely suitable for artificial intelligence applications, particularly NVIDIA graphics processing units (GPUs, initially developed for gaming and graphics applications) with application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) for bitcoin mining. Some miners established early strategic relationships with NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA).

“I love this stuff – bitcoin, Ethereum, blockchain technology – and what the future holds.” – Abigail Johnson, granddaughter of the late Edward C. Johnson II, founder of Fidelity Investments.

And just like that bitcoin is institutional – bitcoinalization.

Where Have All the Good Workers Gone?

Reminiscent of the 1984 Bonnie Tyler hit from Footloose, many US employers are crooning for working class heroes. “I need a worker, I’m holding out for a worker ‘til the end of 2023.” The U.S. labor force has been dwindling from food and beverage service to financial analysts since the COVID-19 pandemic began. While some have been quick to blame the shortage on several rounds of government relief money that idled some workers, a combination of factors is influencing this labor change. Millions of people were suddenly unemployed at the start of the pandemic and many industries assumed these people would return to work when normalcy resumed. However, almost 3 years after the start of the pandemic, these “missing” workers may never return to the labor force. This labor shortage could cause a secular shift in American businesses and labor markets.


Government and businesses’ responses to COVID-19 brought about a 50-year high in unemployment, peaking at 14.7% in April 2020. Service workers and business professionals found themselves suddenly without work and wages. The U.S. government came to the rescue, handing out $5 trillion in pandemic stimulus money with a large portion devoted directly to individuals in the form of stimulus checks and extended unemployment benefits. When evidence of a growing labor shortage emerged, many people pointed fingers at the U.S. government for providing so much monetary support and disincentivizing workers to return to the job market. However, the story isn’t that simple. Fears of contracting and spreading COVID and the existential risk of mortality created a widespread shift in lifestyle priorities and an increased desire for a better work-life balance. The result of these factors has been the rise of remote labor and gig workforces. A study done by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found 91% of survey participants hoped they could continue to work remotely at least part of the time. Businesses have generally adapted to this desire and been accommodative.  However, remote labor isn’t really a possibility for customer-facing service roles or manufacturing jobs for which labor activities are concentrated in a single location.

The U.S. Labor Department reported 10.5 million job openings in November 2022 with the labor participation rate at 62.3%, down from 63.3% in February 2020. Not only do service industries have their “Help Wanted” signs out but so do financial services and professional and business services. While workers are demanding more remote work, these professional industries are demanding people come back to work in their office buildings to collaborate with their colleagues. Workers have been less receptive to this return to the office mandate causing worker turnover rates to reach 57.3% in 2021, up from 45% just two years earlier. Businesses that have been able to accommodate their workforce’s desires for at least partial remote work are generally experiencing lower turnover and avoiding severe labor shortages.

No More Baby Boomers

Economists argue that this labor shortage was always on the demographic table. The labor participation rate has been on a downward trend since 2000 and some argue it is as simple as the laws of supply and demand. One of the largest generations in U.S. history, the Baby Boomer generation, is clocking out with no plans to punch back in. The median age of the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-1964) turned 66 last year meaning many boomers are taking a refrain from Johnny Paycheck’s 1977 hit song, “Take This Job and Shove It” and checking into retirement. The next generation behind the boomers, Generation X, is about 5 million people short to fill the employment hole the boomers are leaving. The next generation able to take the Boomer’s place is the Millennials; however, it is still going to be several years before they enter the labor force. COVID-19 only intensified Boomers leaving the workforce as older generations were more susceptible to adverse outcomes from the virus. Boomers were also less likely to adapt to changes toward more remote work.  This trend may have something to do with the adage of old dogs and new tricks.

Source: Statista

These trends in labor demographics are not likely to be resolved any time soon as the World Bank projects the number of people between the working ages of 15 and 65 is set to decline by 3% over the next decade. “Without sustained immigration or a focus on attracting workers on the sidelines of the labor force, these countries simply won’t have enough workers to fill long-term demand for years to come,” said the chief economist at Indeed. Historically, immigration and globalization have helped bridge the labor gap; however, during the pandemic we saw a reversal of both trends. Policy reform towards immigration will need to happen if the U.S. wants a sufficiently dynamic labor force in the years to come.

Is the End in Sight?

The question begs, how long will this domestic labor shortage last? While a body of evidence suggests this is a systematic change, other economists argue a potential shift into a recession could help lower demand for labor and bring the labor situation towards equilibrium. The shifting landscape of the U.S. economy toward a recession would likely reduce hiring levels as companies are forced to cut back on growth plans. While we may see an uptick in unemployment levels, it is doubtful it will reach the near 10% unemployment levels the Great Recession of 2008 brought. The looming recession and persistent inflation point to a normalization of the labor market in 2023; however, some companies are still going to need to make adjustments to their business models to compensate for the loss in workers.

Companies are beginning to readjust their hiring strategies and their job expectations to accommodate the current labor market conditions. Inflation has made it difficult for companies to keep pay scales in line with the cost-of-living increases. It is going to be increasingly important for companies to be proactive with their employment strategies and stay ahead of the trends in worker lifestyle demands if they want to retain good talent. Companies such as IBM (Ticker: IBM) predicted this shortage long ago and began outsourcing their talent to countries with growing populations such as India. They have been able to capitalize on lower market-based wages in these developing countries and cheaper input supplies.

Meanwhile, the technology sector is busily working on solutions to these labor shortages, like artificial intelligence and machine learning.  The most recent market hero in this space is ChatGPT from the venture firm OpenAI.  ChatGPT optimizes language models for dialogue. The ChatGPT model has been trained to interact with users in a conversational way. This format makes it possible for ChatGPT to answer follow-up questions, admit its mistakes, challenge incorrect premises, and reject inappropriate requests. Several in the Twittersphere claim that ChatGPT has passed portions of the Bar Exam, medical license exam, and MBA operations exam. Further, experts interviewed by UK’s Daily Mail believe ‘AI will take 20% of all jobs within five YEARS’ and explain how bots like ChatGPT will dominate the labor market. According to the article, Microsoft invested $10 billion in ChatGPT and said that the technology will change how people interact with computers.

From our standpoint, the best way for investors to express a purposeful view on the future emergence of artificial intelligence and machine learning is through the leading technology heros, like Microsoft and Apple, who have massive distribution capabilities through their existing software and hardware product suites and business relationships across sectors. We like iShares U.S. Technology ETF (IYW).  This ETF provides exposure to the leading U.S. electronics, computer software and hardware, and IT companies.  IYW’s boasts assets under management totalling $7.8 billion and a reasonable expense ratio of 0.39%.    IYW has traded down 35% in 2022 and trades at an estimated 2023 price to earnings ratio of 23 times.  The following summarizes IYW’s top holdings:

We recommend buying IYW on future weakness and sitting on the sidelines holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light. In other words, wait until the next recession and buy these tech heroes who are strong, fast, and fresh from the fight.

Wild Turkey Inflation Run

Equity and bond market investors have a very busy week ahead of them after giving thanks with friends and family this past week.  The Federal Reserve also has its work cut out for them on the inflation front.  Unfortunately, a lackadaisical Fed Reserve has let inflation go on a wild turkey run. The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) reading for October 2022 came in at a roasting annual increase of 7.7%.  As usual whenever inflation is an issue, it’s typically driven largely by the necessities of human existence.  Energy prices increased most of the CPI measurements at 17.6% followed by food increases of 10.9%.

According to the University of Illinois, 46 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving.  The American Farm Bureau Federation estimated that the average cost of this year’s Thanksgiving holiday meal for ten people increased 20% to $64.05 from the 2021 average of $53.31. America’s collective Thanksgiving spending increased more than $225 million for just the turkey and not counting side dishes (46 million times $4.97 AFB price increase for turkey). U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack had previously warned all Americans of a large turkey shortage. Free-market Austrian economists chortled that Secretary Vilsack had neglected to count the docile turkeys at the Federal Reserve and in leadership in the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government.

All kidding continued, let’s talk turkey about inflation. The greatest economic uncertainty and focus for investors seems to be whether the Federal Reserve gaggle is succeeding in reining in inflation or not. Stock market bulls are feeling a little more confident that the Federal Reserve is moving closer to ending its tightening program after “minutes” from the November policy meeting showed “most” of the Fed herd favored slowing the pace of interest rate hikes “soon.” According to the Fed minutes, some turkeys even warned that continued rapid monetary policy tightening increased the risk of instability or dislocations in the financial system.

Most Wall Street experts predict the central bank clucks will raise the benchmark rate by 50-basis points at its upcoming December 13-14 meeting following four consecutive 75-basis point hikes. The most important inflation updates this coming week will be the PCI Prices Index on Thursday and the November Employment Situation on Friday. Investors are also anxious to hear Top Cockster Jerome Powell discuss the US economic outlook during an appearance at the Brookings Institute on Wednesday afternoon. Powell recently crowed that the Fed could shift to smaller rate hikes next month, but, like all two-handed economists, also squawked that rates may need to go higher than policymakers thought would be needed by next year. Stock market bears maintain that the more important issue is how high rates will ultimately need to go and how long the Fed will hold them there.  All of which is of course dependent on how fast inflation comes down. This is the key question being debated among economists, business leaders, investment advisors, and investors.

For their part, the Fed members generally see inflation coming home to roost rather quickly.  The range of Fed member projections from their last dot plot exercise in September, 2022 are as follows – 2022 (5.0% to 6.2%), 2023 (2.4% to 4.1%), and 2024 (2.0% to 3.0%).  This Federal Reserve has lost an incredible amount of market credibility by being stubbornly beholden to its “inflation is transitory” mantra in 2021. It’s prudent for all economic actors, particularly low- and middle-income consumers and workers who arguably suffer the greatest hardships during inflationary periods, to at least consider that the turkeys at the Fed are once again being too optimistic on inflationary trends.  If the moral sense of the global working-class population is that inflation is a secular trend, it may likely become a secular trend. Look for striking workers and protesting citizenry in the U.S. and globally.

I believe it was Founding Father Patrick Henry of “Give me liberty or give me death!” fame that also counseled, “I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience.  I know no way of judging the future but by the past.”  Thankfully, the investment professionals at Research Affiliates (RA) have examined inflationary eras of the past in their recent article, “History Lessons: How “Transitory” Is Inflation?” RA examined a meta-analysis of 67 published studies on global inflation and monetary policies.  Their key conclusions from their study were as follows:

  • The US Federal Reserve Bank’s expectation for the speed of reverting to 2% inflation levels remains dangerously optimistic.
  • An inflation jump to 4% is often temporary, but when inflation crosses 8%, it proceeds to higher levels over 70% of the time.
  • Reverting to 3% inflation, which we view as the upper bound for benign inflation, is easy from 4%, hard from 6%, and very hard from 8% or more. Above 8%, reverting to 3% usually takes 6 to 20 years, with the median of over 10 years.
  • Those who expect inflation to fall rapidly in the coming year may well be correct. But history suggests that’s a “best quintile” outcome. Few acknowledge the “worst quintile” possibility in which inflation remains elevated for a decade. Our work suggests that both tails are equally likely, at about 20% odds for each.

As Fed Chair Jerome Powell remembers well because he lived it, the last secular inflationary episode in the United States was in the 1970s and 1980s.  If Shakespeare is right that “What’s past is prologue,” here is a summary of the return performance of various major asset classes in the 20-year inflationary period from 1970 (CPI breached 6% in 1969) to 1986 (CPI declines to 1%) to illuminate the darkness of an unknown investment future.

Source: Data complementary of the TIAA Center for Farmland Research

The best risk-adjusted return profiles from this secular inflationary period were high quality fixed income instruments of varying maturities and farmland. Note that farmland and bonds were negatively correlated over this period so may complement each other rather nicely in a portfolio positioned for secular inflation.  REITs and gold provided similar annual returns but at much higher levels of volatility/standard deviation.

In bowling, three strikes in a row is called a turkey. In economic parlance, that’s the triptophanic effect of the sleepy leadership at the Federal Reserve and in the executive and legislative branches of the Federal government.

Riding the Bitcoin Rocket

What is Bitcoin?

Over the past few years it is more than likely you have either directly encountered Bitcoin or heard of it, and this is for good reason. As cryptocurrencies are still so new and foreign to most people, reluctance and skepticism are a natural hurdle. Just as many people thought the internet was a waste of time during its inception, Bitcoin is bound to face similar issues. However, popular financial figures such as Elon Musk and Anthony Scaramucci have sung cryptocurrencies’ praises for its innovative blockchain technology. Bitcoin has the potential to significantly disrupt current financial systems such as our current fiat money system while revolutionizing data collection and financial transaction systems.

In 2008, a person using the name Satoshi Nakamoto published a white paper on a public online mailing list. The paper, titled Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System stated the objectives of the currency as well as the actual code for how to make it possible. As the name suggests, the main objective of Bitcoin is to create a decentralized digital currency that is fully peer-to-peer, not requiring any regulators, banks to be a mediator, or middlemen for transactions. Additionally, Bitcoin avoids rapid fiat currency inflationary episodes like we are seeing currently because the number of bitcoin to be mined has been fixed at 21 million. All of these are made possible through the computer code for blockchain which Satoshi provides in the same paper.

Blockchain Technology

Blockchain is the technology that makes Bitcoin and all cryptocurrencies possible. While it is an extremely complicated system altogether, it can be summarized in a fairly digestible way. Blockchain is essentially a linear public ledger of all transactions, using encryption and decryption as a means of verifying transactions. As Bitcoin transactions are made, they are publicly broadcasted to all computers in the blockchain network and grouped into blocks. These blocks must then be decrypted by the network of computers in the system. Once one of these computers solves the block, the ledger is permanently updated with that block being the newest block on the end of the chain. This process continues indefinitely, constantly adding verified blocks full of transactions. This process eliminates the risk of double spending while remaining decentralized. Double-spending occurs when a single digital token can be spent more than once through duplication or falsification of the blockchain record. The information for all of these blocks as well as the individual transactions within them are all public and can be viewed at any time. While the crypto wallet public key is displayed for transactions, no information is linked to the key that could compromise anonymity.

Mining and Supply

There is only a single way new Bitcoins are created. That is through the process of mining. Calling it mining is slightly misleading as in reality mining is an essential process that maintains the blockchain network. Miners are the computers connected to the blockchain network which complete the decryption process to verify and post blocks. Whichever computer eventually solves the encryption by providing the correct 64-digit hexadecimal value is rewarded a set number of new Bitcoins. This is the only way new Bitcoins are added to the system.

About every four years or 210,000 blocks verified, the Bitcoin reward for solving a block is halved. This rate was established at inception to limit the supply growth and cap the total number of Bitcoins that will ever exist at 21 million. In addition to this, the blockchain system adjusts the difficulty of its encryptions to the amount of mining power in the network to maintain this rate. This is how Bitcoin handles inflation. These countermeasures to inflating the supply are hard-coded into the blockchain. Unlike the U.S. fiat dollar system where money can be arbitrarily created whenever needed by the government, Bitcoin has a fixed total supply and rate of adding to the supply that is not controlled by an irresponsible third party. Today, the reward for solving a single block is 6.25 BTC which currently, would be valued at around $144,000.

While a $144,000 payout for running a computer sounds attractive, the odds of actually being the one to solve the encryption is estimated to be about 1 in 22 trillion. Mining technology is becoming more productive every year with inventions like ASICs (Application-Specific-Integrated-Circuit) which are computers designed for the sole purpose of mining Bitcoin. However, even with one of these top-of-the-line computers, odds of solving the encryption are terrible as there are many other individuals and companies running mining operations at a scale that no individual can afford. This issue has led to the creation of mining pools. These are pools of individuals all agreeing to share in the profits of their combined computing power. With thousands of times the computing power, the chances of being the one to solve and be rewarded Bitcoin go up significantly. These profits are then divided up amongst individuals in the pool by how much computing power they offered to the pool.

Bitcoin Today

Fourteen years later, it is hard to imagine Satoshi had any idea that his creation would become such a big deal with some countries even using Bitcoin as legal tender. While the coin came from extremely humble beginnings, with a value as low as $0.09 per Bitcoin in 2010, it has hit astonishing highs of nearly $69,000 per Bitcoin just last year. Bitcoin’s price has fallen considerably from this point, today being worth just under $23,000 per coin. This decline is largely from a recent crypto panic caused by the crashing of multiple extremely over-leveraged crypto companies. Despite this recent dip, Bitcoin still shows immense promise for all of the reasons listed above. Even for those skeptical about Bitcoin, the blockchain technology surrounding it has taken off in every sector from food and supply chain to insurance and banking. American Express, Facebook, Walt Disney, and Berkshire Hathaway have all invested in the technology. As the fiat money system becomes more and more problematic and the importance of data collection grows, individuals and countries will be looking to Bitcoin and blockchain technologies for guidance.

Investing in Bitcoin

If you are considering putting money in Bitcoin there is a lot to consider. Crypto wallets can be intimidating and are only for direct investment in crypto assets. Instead, we will be focusing on investment opportunities that are tradeable like typical stocks but still provide exposure to the crypto markets. These come in a wide variety and may have different approaches to how they offer crypto exposure. For our purposes, we will cover three of these opportunities.

The first fund has been in the news for the past couple of months. Grayscale Bitcoin Trust (ticker: GBTC) is a closed-end fund holding purely bitcoin assets.  Unlike actual bitcoin, GBTC can be held in a tradional investment brokerage account or an IRA (individual retirement account).  Grayscale currently has assets under management of around $15 billion, making it the largest Bitcoin fund in the world. The fund provides the opportunity for people to gain exposure to the direct price changes in Bitcoin. Grayscale has plans to convert to an exchanged-traded-fund (ETF) which would allow them to use the creation and redemption technique of an ETF to stabilize the value to the net asset value (NAV). Currently, Grayscale’s inability to use this stabilizing technique has led to GBTC trading at nearly a 30% discount from the NAV of the underlying Bitcoin. In June, the SEC denied Grayscale’s application to convert to an ETF, citing concerns of potential manipulation. Grayscale is now suing the SEC over the decision following previous inconsistent approvals from the SEC for a Bitcoin futures ETF. If Grayscale ends up receiving approval for conversion, the current 30% discount will become a 30% profit for investors as the price will return close to NAV.

The next few investment opportunities take on more of a “pick and shovel” approach to investing in Bitcoin and crypto. This means investing in the tools that make this sector possible, such as computer chips and ASICs and the mining companies, rather than the crypto assets themselves as they can admittedly be volatile. The first of these is Fidelity Crypto Industry and Digital Payment ETF (Ticker: FDIG). This ETF holds assets across Fidelity’s entire Crypto Industry and Digital Payment Index, closely tracking the performance of the crypto sector rather than the potentially volatile prices of the cryptos themselves. Currently, FDIG holds assets under management of about $13 million with a NAV of $16.71. The second company we have an eye on takes a similar pick and shovel approach to invest in crypto. Bitwise Crypto Industry Innovators ETF (Ticker: BITQ) is another ETF holding shares of companies innovating in and supporting the crypto industry. Specifically, only companies that generate at least half of their revenues from crypto business activities. BITQ currently has assets under management of $72 million and a NAV of $8.10. These could be good options for those who are interested or have faith in crypto but want to take a more diversified approach on the sector.







An investment in GBTC, FDIG or BITQ can be as volatile as owning bitcoin or any other crypto.  We recommend only modest allocations to the crypto space of 1% to 5% within an investment portfolio because of the higher risk and speculative aspects of this nascent industry/technology. Servant Financial client portfolio models include GBTC and were recently rebalanced to purchase more given the market correction in the crypto sector along with traditional stock and bond markets.  More risk tolerant client models also hold Hut 8 Mining (NASDAQ: HUT) and these models were also rebalanced.  We typically do not invest in ETFs that do not have more than $100 million in assets under management so we will continue to monitor FDIG and BITQ.

Looking Forward

Crypto is still only in its beginning phase. With the application and acceptance of Bitcoin and other cryptos increasing each year, demand is expected to increase significantly. Broader acceptance and application of the technology is expected to lead to improved regulation of these currencies which will serve to increase adoption and overall understanding of cryptos as well as the benefits they have to offer. Bitcoin and crypto will continue to establish themselves as major disruptive forces to the current financial system. Bitcoin and crypto can potentially disintermediate traditional financial institutions much like what the internet and e-commerce did to traditional retailers, like book stores. As innovators such as Steve Jobs, Nikola Tesla, and Jeff Bezos will tell you, being on the right side of change can reap financial benefits and societal advancements.

Invigorating Our Mission — Re-Designing Our Website and Re-Visiting Our Values



Servant Financial Ltd. recently decided it was time to update our website. Since our initial website launch, we have consistently provided trustworthy investment advice. However, just like investment trends and approaches change over time, so has Servant Financial. We wanted to tangibly show those evolutionary and innovative aspects. A newly designed website is exactly what we needed. We soon recognized that this new website was a chance to not only invigorate our digital presence but to refocus on our purpose or raison d’etre.

When designing our website, there were three things that we wanted to make incredibly clear about who we are—integrity, compassion, and experience. These three words define Servant Financial’s mission and always have. They are what set us apart from other financial advisors. With this new website, that mission is at the forefront. We are excited to share it with you.


We want to take this opportunity not only to introduce our new website but to reintroduce ourselves and redefine our mission. Here is what integrity, compassion, and experience mean to us:

Integrity means finding our success within yours. Our goals are aligned with your goals and when you succeed, so do we. Integrity is also part of being a registered investment advisor. Unlike investment brokers, who act as salesmen, selling investment products for commissions, investment advisors provide fee-based services, providing a more transparent and trustworthy business model.  We have no hidden agendas, no small print. When we say that “your success is our success,” we truly mean it.

Compassion means making sure that you invest with purpose. Whether your purpose is to support your family, financial goals, or the environment, we make sure your investments align with your unique values and preferences. We do this by getting to know you, first and foremost, so that we understand your goals and create an investment strategy that’s a fit for you. That strategy may include ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), ESG investments (Environmental, Social, and Governance), or alternative investments. Our portfolio recommendation will always incorporate your unique purposes and preferences.

Experience means you can trust us to guide you through your investment journey and help you reach your financial and life goals. Our years of finance experience together with access to innovative investment tools and products allow us to confidently guide you to the achievement of your goals. You have the vision, we have the tools to make that vision a reality.


As the founder of Servant Financial, I strive to live out these three qualities in my professional and personal life. I have found great satisfaction in doing so. That’s why I wanted to share this update with you and thank you for elevating our success. I understand how much you value your family, career, and community.  We share those traditional values. They are the bedrock of a purposeful and wonderful life.  As your investment advisor, I’ll make sure your values and purpose are the beating heart of your investment portfolio.


To learn more about the Servant Financial team, and what we do, please explore our brand new website and watch this video


Together, let’s invest with purpose!