A Conversation on the Alternative Investment Landscape with Bryan Mick

In this episode of Non-Beta Alpha, Bryan Mick, founder and CEO of Mick Law, helps us understand how the alternative investment landscape is coping with the pandemic.
In this episode of Non-Beta Alpha, Bryan Mick, founder and CEO of Mick Law, helps us understand how the alternative investment landscape is coping with the pandemic. Mick discusses which sectors in the real estate industry have been most heavily impacted by the pandemic, and which sectors have fared better. He also delves into the potential volatility of office space, commercial real estate, and multifamily living.

Mick also touches on topics such as the national economy and the gradual process that will constitute our nation’s recovery. Stimulus packages offered by the government act merely as a band-aid for a much larger wound; the only way to accelerate recovery is to focus on fundamental economic drivers: Consumer Spending and High Employment.

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Ryan Morfin:                    Welcome to “Non-Beta Alpha”. I’m Ryan Morfin. On today’s episode, we have Bryan Mick, the founder and CEO of Mick Law, a due diligence firm that focuses on broker-dealers, RIAs, and family offices, and their allocation into alternative investments. This is “Non-Beta Alpha”.

                                           Bryan, thank you for joining the show today. We appreciate you coming on.

Bryan Mick:                      Ryan, thanks a bunch. Appreciate the opportunity.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, Bryan, you’re one of the thought leaders in our space, keep a lot broker-dealers educated on a macro environments and due diligence. I was wondering if you could share some of your insights on this episode about where we started end of 2019 and what you think is happening, maybe the response to coronavirus, where we are in getting back to normal, and then maybe some items that we should all be thinking about, wealth managers allocating to alternative investments, and maybe share some insights from past business cycles of things that may or may not come to pass that we should be keeping our eyes on for people that we’ve invested with.

Bryan Mick:                      Sure. Well, I think towards the fourth quarter of 2019, generally speaking, things were humming along. You had a reasonably positive… You had a positive GDP, and it was business as usual. I think fourth… Well, the second half of ’19, there were a lot of, on the real estate side, there were actually quite a few asset classes that were nearing cycle tops, and we were starting to see some cracks storage. Understand real estate, of course, individual projects, they’re always unwritten at the local basis, the submarket, because those are dramatically different MSA to MSA.

                                           But, for instance, on storage, we were starting to see some vacancy numbers ticking up, on oversupply issue, that kind of thing. We saw some in multi-family. Most of the top 50 metros were at the apex of the cycle in multi-family. Continuing into first quarter, the COVID-19 crisis obviously threw a wrench into everything, and I think at this juncture, it’s a little too early to prognosticate. Many have, and I think you can, certain asset classes within the real estate industry, you can be pretty confident in. In fact, their performance is probably enhanced, if you will.

                                           You’ve got the fourth, the traditional four food groups, office, retail, multi-family, and industrial. But then you have these other subgroups, senior housing, student housing, storage, et cetera. Logistics, to a degree, that’s an industrial-plus, but if you look at data centers, for instance, anything significant logistical facilities, Amazon-related, et cetera, those are doing fine. Multi-family, from what we’ve seen so far, we think the Class A new stuff, and the Class C workforce will probably be adversely affected or affected the most. I mean, the C properties is obvious. A lot of the service industry employees were the first to lose their jobs, and frankly, those jobs will probably be laggards in coming back, given the localized and statewide orders on restaurants, bars, et cetera.

Ryan Morfin:                    It is interesting. I mean, it’s been also a pause given that a lot of local governments and third parties, engineers, appraisers, have had to shelter in place. Nonessential transactions, real estate transactions aren’t happening. As that starts to get relaxed, maybe as the country starts to reopen, what do you think maybe the haircut to purchase price for an office building or a retail center, how do you see the underwriting changing in the next six months? How are you going to stress test the underwriting going forward?

Bryan Mick:                      Well, there’s going to be some permanent partial reset for an extended period of time, I think, in certain asset classes. You look at office. Those small businesses that actually survive this, small to medium, and maybe segments of Fortune 500 companies for that matter, are going to analyze their various functional areas. And if there are salespeople, engineers that can do their CAD stuff on their laptop at home, whatever the case may be, they’re going to look at, okay, what was the productivity during the COVID separation work-at-home timeframe and the productivity otherwise, and there’ll be employees that are making the case, “Hey, listen, here’s what I did from my sales goal perspective, and I want to continue this.”

                                           Now, a lot of people have, oh, say small children at home, and they may say, “Nah, this is not for me. I want to go back to the office environment.” But there’s going to be a segment of the office users that disappear or reallocate, if you will, their location. That’s going to be hard to determine, but we’ll definitely be looking at tenant rosters and use and the rent roll and the expiration dates and figure out how these tenants are doing within the different projects.

                                           Multi-family, it’ll come back, obviously, but the real stress right now, multi-family’s probably one of the areas where there’s still some financing getting done. The problem is if you look at… You would think, and most people watching this know the valuation of real estate is a three-step process. It’s the 10-year Treasury. It’s the spread over the 10-year from the lender’s side, and then there’s a spread over that for the owner/developer taking the risk of owning a non-liquid asset for a long period of time. I mean, positive leverage is what makes real estate work.

                                           If you look at 12 months ago to today on the 10-year Treasury, the 10-year Treasury’s down 90 basis points. The problem that we run into is twofold. One the GSEs, Fannie and Freddie on the multi-family side, are putting floor rates on their quotes. If you’ve got a floor rate of 90 or 75 and you’ve got a higher spread up to 250, 275, you’re getting back to that four-plus number, whereas if a lot of these deals were being financed at 300 basis points sometime not too long ago. That’s going to affect valuation.

                                           What we’ve been doing on the multi-family, and we look at lot of the 1031 DST product, probably 80% of at least the universe and the broker-dealer independent RIA channel. What we’ve been doing is we’re taking rents flat for at least 12 to 18 months. Small increases, and again, it depends on what Reece and CoStar’s feeding us from a local MSA perspective, right? But generally speaking, that’s the approach. We’re going to take up the vacancy by newer from 500 basis points to 10%, and we’re going to play that out for 18 to 24 months. Then we’re back to normalizing, rent growth, expense growth. Vacancy’s back to where they were, say, 12 months ago in that particular market. The early stuff, the early period, early holding period, we’re testing hard. Then we’re doing our standard 10-year ARGUS modeling on the exit.

Ryan Morfin:                    On the retail side, are there any kind of major credit tenants that you guys are worried about? People like Chipotle or some of the big box retailers have just said, “We’re done paying rent until further notice.” Is there anybody that you think’s going to be really, really poorly situated post this normalization?

Bryan Mick:                      Well, I heard… Well, to preface this, we still look at a lot of, a fair number of triple net deals. We got a little bit weary of triple net, just the direction on cap rates over the last few years, and early on, we were wrong. I guess COVID makes us right, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of juice. You know what I mean?

                                           You’ve seen some of the public stuff, Subway, Mattress Firm, Cheesecake Factory, where the franchisors are either coordinating with their franchisees, or groups of franchisees are saying, “We can’t pay rent, and we’re not paying rent.” There are more out there. We work a lot with The Boulder Group out of Chicago, Jimmy Goodman and Randy Blankstein. They’ve had a good pulse on the national triple net market. They say there’s more to come.

                                           Now on the flip side, Tractor Supply yesterday said they were increasing their quarterly dividends, so their stock was up, and their credit’s still good on the triple net side. But there’s going to be big empty boxes, and you can guess who that might be. My niece is furloughed. She lives in Manhattan. She’s furloughed from Macy’s. Will Macy’s close some stores? There’s discussion the last couple days about Neiman Marcus filing for bankruptcy. Yeah, there’s going to be a fair amount.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, that’s interesting. The retailers, the grocery stores, have really proven the necessity to have bricks and sticks, but a lot of those folks don’t pay a huge amount in rent on a per-square-foot basis like the rest of the tenants in those strip malls. But I do think it’s going to put some interesting dynamics in play about the importance of some of these retailers, or at least communities appreciating the fact that there’s a Kroger or a Holt Foods down the street because a lot of grocery deliveries are not happening because there’s a surge in demand for these kind of Amazon grocery providers. I think it’s hopefully going to give a boost in the arm to some retailers, but it’s definitely hurting the viability of a lot of others. Can you maybe touch-

Bryan Mick:                      Sorry to interrupt you. But grocery-anchored, I agree. I mean, the grocery stores pay six bucks a foot, and the inline tenants might be at 18 or 20, but that grocer’s rent check right now is a highly appreciated thing because there’s-

Ryan Morfin:                    [crosstalk 00:12:28] debt service.

Bryan Mick:                      Yeah, it can cover a chunk of debt service. But we have our real estate symposium in Scottsdale every October, and we were talking October 18 and 19, there’s kind of “The Twilight Zone” of, how can it get any better in commercial real estate? At the time, whether it’s grocery-anchored or non, neighborhood shopping centers, I said for the cap rate you pay, that’s probably the best risk/reward opportunity on stabilized assets because shoot, even in a bad recession, people will pay six bucks for a Chinese lunch. And they’ll go to the dry cleaners, and they’ll get their hair cut. Well, guess what? First time in the history of the world, all three of those tenants are down. All bets are off in the COVID world.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah. No, it’s going to interesting to see how long this lasts. Maybe you could touch about hotels. I mean, those poor owners have been decimated. I think occupancy rates are at 20% right now nationally. What do you see in store in the crystal ball?

Bryan Mick:                      I took a recent trip to Madison, Wyoming. I had to spend the night in Rapid City, South Dakota, and granted, that’s Rapid City, South Dakota, but I think it’s happening all over the country. I paid $19 at a branded select service hotel. I wonder whether that barely covers the variable expenses. But, yeah, the hotel industry has been hit hard, and, again, it will be a slow climb back. The development deals are probably okay, if you’re just now buying the dirt, or maybe you’ve been working for a few months, and you got the site prep done because the delivery on that will be 18 to 24 months out. All other things considered, the right market and the good quality financing and all that, wouldn’t be too afraid to do a hotel development deal today.

                                           But on the quote-unquote stabilized, they are highly unstable right now. You have the Paycheck Protection Program loans where the hotel franchisees qualify. That will, if these are all funded with the additional 484 billion they approved this last week, I think 250 of that’s going, if my memory serves me right, 250 of that’s going to the Paycheck Protection Program, so the franchisee can run for another 60, the rule is 60 days after your date of funding. If they’re on life support but paying all the bills right now with a furloughed workforce, 60 days from a week or two or three from now, you’ll get through some of it, but then what?

                                           Now, one of the nice things about hotels is that operationally, it’s all labor. Most, not all, but significant labor expense, so that’s a variable component. You had a staff of 18 running that hotel, you’re going to be down to five or six.

Ryan Morfin:                    I heard something crazy. It’s at $900 billion, almost a trillion dollars of revenue that’s going to be lost this year in the hotel industry. That’s a big donut that’s going to impact capital structure. I think it’s going to be wildly disruptive to that industry. But you mentioned the human element, which is the unemployment rate. Maybe we go back up to a macro level, we might be at a 20% unemployment rate, so they may be higher, what do you think’s going to happen in the economy over the next six to 12 months? We had tremendous stimulus, tremendous demand destruction. Is it enough? What do you think’s going to play out?

Bryan Mick:                      No, because stimulus only works for so long. Stimulus is… I don’t want to… Calling it a Band-Aid is probably too harsh, but ultimately, the fundamental economic drivers have to be at play, and that is primarily full unemployment, a consumer that’s confident and is spending. I mean, 70% of our GDP is on the backs of the consumer, and if the consumer isn’t going back to some of those activities… And think through it. We’re talking about hotels, restaurants, bars, movie theaters. The daily life of the consumer will not be the same. Early on in this, early on being, what? Five, six weeks ago, people were talking about, “Oh, yeah. We’re going to have a V-shaped recovery, and everything’s going to be normal in the third quarter.”

                                           Well, I think they’ve thrown the V out. I think you can throw the narrow U out. I think you can probably throw the U out. We’re looking at a Nike swish, or swoosh, sorry. That’s what it’s going to look like. I think it’s going to take longer than six to 12 months. Again, there may be a little bit of a permanent reset. We may be talking to each other three years from now and the general consensus from the macro economists, who are a lot smarter than I am, might be that 6% unemployment is full unemployment. It used to be 2% because of the people that quit looking and then part-time teenagers and whatever else, but that number could change.

Ryan Morfin:                    That’s an interesting point that the earnings curve, I guess, is going to get dragged out until we really, by hopefully a catalyst in the healthcare space, convince people they’re safe again to start traveling and going back to the office. One question I had for you… Yeah, and I think until we do that, I think people are going to continue to be skeptical given all the mistrust of whether it’s fake news or propaganda or an administration they don’t buy into. I think the lack of trust and partisanship is forcing the general public to pause a little longer than I’m sure a lot of people would like.

                                           I think one question is, do you think we’re at risk of a depression if we don’t get the municipal bond market sorted, or if we don’t get back to work? Is there a risk that we get the policy wrong here, and we go into a real, real sharp depression?

Bryan Mick:                      Boy, I don’t know. That’s probably above my pay grade. You would think that the interim fiscal stimulus would help with that. I don’t know. I don’t think so. I think it’s a severe recession unlike we’ve ever seen, of course, at least in the short term with the unemployment numbers. We don’t want to get too political about this, but you start to question the resources and the restrictions and everything else for the, pick your number, under 50 healthy people.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah. Absolutely. Well, switching gears a bit, the oil and gas space has been really volatile. Never in my life did I expect to see negative oil prices. Maybe you could share some of your thoughts on the oil patch.

Bryan Mick:                      Right. And I don’t want to engage in too much promotion here, but just last week, Brad Updike is our lead energy lawyer in the office. He does most of the work on the energy space, and that is drilling, royalties from minerals, MLP infrastructure, all that. They did a podcast, Brad did a podcast with Steve Burr, our lead petroleum engineer out of Dallas, and a gentleman named Dan Steffens, who’s a consultant in the industry, very experienced and well-respected. That podcast is up on our website, micklawpc.com. That goes into a lot of detail. I think the… and this is true in some aspects of the real estate space.

                                           One thing, by the way, we should point out, on the commercial real estate side, generally speaking the trough across the board is going to lag the general economy by a good six months, if not more. The real estate opportunities, even if you see positive GDP numbers in the fourth quarter of 2020, the real real estate opportunities may be 12 months from now.

                                           Now, getting back to the oil patch. Right, so the prices now require somebody to pay you, a producer to pay you take his oil. That’s going to normalize a little bit, and there was a little bit of blame on the massive ETFs in computer trading driving some of that price collapse, but clearly demand is way down, and it ties back into what we’ve been talking about. Are you going to go to a vacation to a crowded beach or a crowded national park? Yellowstone attracts hundreds of thousands every summer. Are people going to be elbow to elbow at the geyser? I doubt it.

                                           You have a demand, a softening of demand. I think the Saudi-Russian thing’s getting fixed a little bit, but a softening of demand that’s going to continue. What do you do in our world, the private placement world? There’s opportunity, obviously. You can buy minerals on the cheap. You can do royalty deals. The nice thing about doing royalty deals, you buy the royalties, and it’s just an IRR consideration. If the privates and the publics that have the capital to drill… Well, they’re not going to drill today, and they may not be drilling 12 months from now, but eventually they will. If you can buy those royalties today on a discounted, prospective discounted cash flow basis that makes sense, that’s probably a pretty conservative way to go about this.

                                           The thing that drives me crazy, and you’ve seen this too, of course, the retail investor… Behavioral economics comes into the play, then retail investor gets scared at the time when he or she should be jumping in with both feet. I mean, Warren Buffett, our neighbor down the street, “Be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy.” And he hasn’t deployed a lot of his 180 billion in cash, or whatever they’re sitting on, last I heard, at least publicly. There are opportunities.

                                           Remember the early ’80s when we were down to 10 bucks a barrel. Folks were buying drilling rigs and other heavy field equipment and storing them on the back 40. They were buying it three to five cents and storing them on the back 40, and five, six years later, they made a lot of money. You just have to think creatively and have the stomach for it and look at some of those opportunities.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah. One area that has been interesting to watch because it’s been litigious with the IRS is conservation easements, and it makes a lot of sense to have that product in place. By letter of the law, it’s allowable. It protects our environment. I mean, as an outdoors person, I enjoy seeing some of these projects be manicured and put together for future generations. Maybe you can give a state of play of what’s going on in that industry because it’s been a very interesting posture for the government to take on some of these projects.

Bryan Mick:                      Yeah, even though, the IRS is busy with other stuff right now, I don’t think they’re going to back off on trying to… You can use prosecute or persecute in this discussion, I think, some of the folks that are active in that industry. I’m in your camp. It’s Section 178. It’s allowed. It was reaffirmed by Congress 10 years ago, 12 years ago, whatever the date was, and made permanent in the tax code. Again, whether it’s conservation easement or a real estate development deal, it’s all about the assets.

                                           If there’s economic substance to the transaction, it can be underwritten and validated, at least on the development option. Then a conservation easement properly structured, it’s very complicated. There’s 92 things you have to do right. But it remains a legitimate powerful tool for high net worth or more appropriately, high-income people. We’ll see. I know there are at least two active sponsors in the space who will do multiple programs this year.

                                           Now, the issue, of course, in 2020, is what’s the demand component of that look like? If you’re a small business owner or you’re an executive who either voluntarily or involuntarily took a big pay cut, you’re not going to be looking at a CE-oriented investment.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, that’s a great point. The environment has also thrown a monkey wrench in opportunity zones. Maybe you can give us an update on what you’re seeing there.

Bryan Mick:                      We haven’t looked at any new opportunity zones, probably in the last… Well, I take that back. Kyla did one urban catalyst, and I think they’re going to shelve for 90 to 120 days and see if there’s more clarity on a couple of their pending projects. It depends, I guess. No, it doesn’t really because most of the opportunity zones have been in the last, call it the last six to nine months, legitimately. I mean, at least in our space. There were folks, when they passed the regs in October of ’18, there were folks that jumped on it right away. “I’ve got an opportunity zone. I’m going to raise $700 billion.”

                                           Well, it’s a tale of two cities. The deals that we look at, the smaller private deals we look at, whether it’s a one-off project or a funds structure, and then the larger wirehouse name on an opportunity zone, those two segments of this space have been pretty successful in raising capital and deploying that capital. I think it’s the folks that ran out there and thought they’d start a fund and then partner with developers and the contractors later are really languishing.

                                           Even before COVID, my position was, there’s going to be some ozone dirt that’s on sale in 2020 because a lot of people were focusing, and I think it’s a red herring, a lot of people were focusing on the 5% basis bump that expired at the end of ’19. If it’s a quality project, there’s still a lot of horsepower in an opportunity zone. You look at Peachtree, for instance, their fund is going to end up with 10, 12, 15 assets. They’ve only COed one. They’re in development on three or four others, and then they have some dirt under contract and stuff they’re still looking for and quite a bit of money in the bank. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think that fund, over the long term, remember, we’re talking about 10 years, is going to do fine.

Ryan Morfin:                    We’ve taken the position, we’ve only done project-level opportunity zone investments. A lot of our advisors who participated look like heroes because they forced some of their clients to take some profits Q4, and that was the right call, whether the reason and rationale for that was an accurate call or not. But the question is structurally, has the Treasury Department come out and fixed some of the uncertainty around a fund vehicle and some of the fee structures and the promote? Has that all been clarified in the last few months or the last six months?

Bryan Mick:                      Yep, it has. There was a final set of regulations they were at that was out probably, oh gosh, 60, 90 days ago. And I apologize. We have our underwriter and our legal lawyer in that space that handles that stuff. I mean, I look at everything that goes out the door, of course, but yeah, I think there’s plenty of guidance now to be comfortable doing a project.

Ryan Morfin:                    Private equity and venture capital, maybe you can talk a little bit about, there’s been a lot of money raised over the last few years, vintage years for privilege growth equity and venture funding. What are your views on those markets today?

Bryan Mick:                      We don’t do a ton of that work. We have a few deals every year we look at, I suppose. It’s tough. It’s tough in the retail IBD/RIA space just because there’s a filter. When we’re looking at it, is it a project that would have… If it would otherwise have been funded by a large wirehouse or investment bank, then we’re probably not looking at it. And it depends too on the size of the deal, of course. But, again, if you’re financing sources on the debt side are questionable, and you have capital to deploy in this environment and moving forward over the next year or two, there’s a lot of opportunity. Absolutely.

Ryan Morfin:                    That’s on the equity side. On the other side, the private debt side and BDCs, what are you guys hearing, and what are your thoughts about that market?

Bryan Mick:                      They’re going to be crushed. I have a personal bias, frankly, against, a lot of the non-traded rate and the BDCs. BDCs, really the larger risk that’s been omnipresent on the BDCs is they tend to borrow short and loan intermediate to long. Well, intermediate. You’ve got potential spread issues there. They are lending to non-investment grade sub-junk for… I mean, that’s the function. They’re going to be operationally challenged.

Ryan Morfin:                    Maybe this is just more of a market commentary of the industry, but there’s been a lot of consolidation in the broker-dealer channel and the RIA channel. What are you hearing from your clients? Are a lot of them doing well? Are they under pressure? Is there a need to consolidate further?

Bryan Mick:                      The question, number one is, I think it’s too early to tell on how they’re doing. I’m assuming a number of our clients, as have we… I mean, Bryan Micks is 55, and I’ve never taken a dime from any governmental entity in my life, but when they came out with the Paycheck Protection Program, my juicy rationalization was, I’m just getting the down payment on the multiples I’m going to have to pay down the road to service, where are we at now, 2.8 trillion in debt by virtue of this crisis? So I applied, and we’re going to use it, I’m sure a number of our clients have too.

                                           I hope everybody’s keeping folks employed. That’s our plan here, and we haven’t made any adjustment. We’ve made adjustments on the logistical side, of course, as everybody has, but we’ve made no adjustments in our employee base and don’t plan to. I think it’s a little too early to tell.

                                           I can tell you this. I mean, if you’re a broker-dealer that has your rep base is focused in a certain area, for instance, 1031 DSTs, that’s slowed down substantially. I think there’s still demand there from the investor side, but as a sponsor/issuer, how do you value this deal? How do you negotiate this deal? Can you even get a loan commitment, and what’s that look like? Are they going to price you at the close, so you don’t know what spreads are going to be like when you’re ready to close in 60 days? There’s a lot of uncertainty out there. If you’re practicing a particular area or heavy in a particular area, it could be significant. Then on the consolidation question, absolutely, there’s going to be more consolidation.

Ryan Morfin:                    I know the SEC’s asked sponsors to put out these COVID supplements. Do you think sponsors are, maybe some of the ones that you’ve reviewed or if you’ve seen any, are they being realistic in their earnings impacts, or do you think there’s probably going to be future supplements that need to be written as time goes on?

Bryan Mick:                      Well, on the public, non-traded side, I would say, they’re probably not being realistic. The NAVs that are being reported, of course, from Q1, obviously, they’re suspect at this juncture. Q2 is going to be significantly worse. I wish they would take… And I shouldn’t paint a broad brush. A few are, but you really need to be proactive. Everybody in this industry needs to be proactive, from the sponsors to our due diligence firm to you running your business and down at the rep and client level. You need to be… If there’s bad news, the old mantra is, you talk about it early, and you talk about it often.

                                           We’ve seen leaders in the industry and how they operate the last several weeks versus others who are hiding under a rock and not communicating. And the former are going to hopefully salvage their business, solidify their reputation, and do phenomenally on the backend of this.

Ryan Morfin:                    Well, I don’t know if you have been following REG BI, but what are your thoughts about how it’s going to impact the alts industry? Do you think REG BI is going to preclude sponsors from participating in any other piece of the wealth management channel? Where do you see the line in the sand on delineating conflict of interest and eliminating it as it relates to the marriage between asset management sponsors and wealth managers?

Bryan Mick:                      Well, I mean our concern with REG BI, and I don’t want to engage in self-promotion here, but we have said since FINRA 1022, that if you are going to analyze, quote, and this is FINRA’s language, “the business prospects of the issuer”, or the achievability of the sponsor’s projections, you have to underwrite the asset. Before that, or underwriting assets, it’s all about the deal. You need to make sure disclosures are appropriate. You need to make sure that fee structures, splits, carried interest, all that are appropriate, but at the end of the day, it’s the asset that carries the investment.

                                           We believe with REG BI, from the commission perspective and comparing products, it is highly justifiable if you have two Class A multi-family projects in similar markets, that if one of them has a holding period 10-year underwritten IRR that’s 200 basis points over project B, then, of course, you make that decision based on the available, the two available at the time. And you can justify a higher compensation structure on a better performing asset. It’s going to come down to the due diligence that’s done at the dealer and rep level and who they utilize to help underwrite the project. If it’s properly documented, REG BI should be a non-issue.

Ryan Morfin:                    Bryan, I guess a few questions. What have you been reading during the quarantine period, the work-from-home period? Have you been reading any interesting books or any market insights, people you’ve been following that our viewers should think about reviewing?

Bryan Mick:                      Dang, put me on the spot. “The Spider Network”, it’s a book about the inside game on LIBOR and the manipulation of LIBOR, which, by the way, we’ll all be dealing with. I think that’s the end of 2021 where they drop LIBOR. That’s been a very interesting read. I have to confess. I read a lot during the day, so at night, we’ve been hitting the Netflix really hard. Most of them are favorites of a new series or a new season coming out on old favorites, “Yellowstone”, “Schitt’s Creek”, that kind of stuff.

                                           On the business side, though, just trying to make sense of everything. There’s plenty of sources out there, sometimes conflicting sources, and like we indicated in our recent [“Edeesa” 00:40:37] article, there’s a lot of postulating and speculating, but we’re in uncharted territory here. You have to weigh in from that perspective.

                                           I did notice, I’ve always stayed on top of the John Grisham. I see that there’s two books now, and I’m cheap, so I wait for the paperback, so maybe I’m not… Those aren’t available yet. But I’m looking forward to next couple of Grisham books. And Barings, I mean, I think-

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, I-

Bryan Mick:                      … I think pound for pound, Barings is about the best source out there.

Ryan Morfin:                    Yeah, I agree. I agree. I’ve doing a lot of Audible lately, and “Fauda” on Netflix is pretty good. I highly recommend that. Well, Bryan, I really appreciate you joining us and sharing some of your insights, and we’d love to have you back on the show in a few months time as this starts to unpack itself and we have more underwriting visibility.

Bryan Mick:                      Ryan, thank you. I really appreciate what you’re doing for the industry and getting that information that can help people make decisions.

Ryan Morfin:                    Thanks, Bryan. Have a great day!

Bryan Mick:                      You, too. Bye-bye.

Ryan Morfin:                    Thank you for watching “Non-Beta Alpha”. Before we go, please remember to subscribe and leave us a review on Apple Podcasts or our YouTube channel. This is “Non-Beta Alpha”. Now you know.


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Ryan Morfin: Welcome to Non-Beta Alpha. I'm Ryan Morfin. On today's episode, we have Pini Althaus, CEO of USA Rare Earth, talking to us about the supply chain glut in rare earth minerals. This is Non-Beta Alpha.

Ryan MorfinPini, Welcome to the show. Thank you for coming on today.

Pini AlthausThank you for having me, Ryan. Good to be here.

Ryan Morfin: So you're an investor and a miner in rare earth minerals. Can you share with our listener base, what are rare earth minerals? Why are they important and why is there a geopolitical race going on globally?

Pini AlthausYeah, I mean, rare earths are an extremely ubiquitous part of all advanced manufacturing or technology manufacturing today's day and age. Several years ago, I had not heard too much about rare earths myself. I was not that familiar with it and being involved in this sector, in this company, for the past few years has given me an education of course. And I mean, I was sad to hear that 50% of all imports into the United States contain are earth elements and it runs the gamut from consumer electronic devices that we use every day. Our cell phones, our laptops, most communication devices, medical equipment. So there's a tie with COVID, which we can touch on at your discretion. Electric vehicles, defense equipment. So pretty much anything or everything high tech today has a rare earth element or critical minerals contained within them.

Ryan MorfinAnd what are some of the names of some of the more important rare earth? I know there's lithium for batteries, but what else is considered in this category, critical?

Pini Althaus: Yeah, so lithium is a separate category to battery material. The rare earths are 17 rare earths. The four, let's call it, key rare earths that we're focused on at our company, the four rare earths that go into the permanent magnets. And these are the magnets that are found, there are a number of them in your back of your cell phone or an iPad. But if you look at an F35 striker jet, you've got about a ton of rare earth magnets in those. And we've got two heavy rare earths and two light rare earths is part of the permanent magnets. You've got dysprosium, ytterbium are the heavies, and then you've got neodymium, praseodymium as the two light rare earths. So those would be key rare earths that are the focus.

Ryan MorfinAnd you use these in, I guess, in military applications as well, but historically, where has the United States sourced the rare earth for supply chain?

Pini AlthausYeah. And that's the shocking part. We've been securing those materials from China. So China controls the rare earth sector and has done so for the past 30 years or so. And it was a significant misstep on the part of the United States, allowing China to have this control. And actually this wasn't a question of China coming in and doing anything nefarious as far as stealing IP or anything. The US government made a conscious decision about 30 years ago to allow China to come to the United States and acquire the processing capabilities for rare earths. So just as part of some background, you've got the rare earth materials containing various mining projects, but once you extract them, you have to then process them and they go through certain phases before they get to the magnet phase. And China, the thought process was let China do the mining, let China do the processing.

Pini AlthausWe don't need to do that here. And we'll buy the materials from China cheaply and the premier of China at the time, Deng Xiaoping made the comment, he said, "The Middle East has oil. China has rare earths." And unfortunately we weren't smart enough to understand what he was saying. And the Chinese understood that the future of manufacturing is going to revolve around control of the rare earth and critical mineral supply chain. So if you think about it today, Ryan, we cannot build... Forget about consumer electronics and medical equipment. We cannot build the equipment that the US Pentagon or the US armed forces require, whether it's F35 fighter jet, Tomahawk cruise missile, communications equipment, without going to China and obtaining those materials. And it's obvious to all that this should be extremely alarming. We've seen China use this as a weapon, if you will, as far as how it interacts with other countries back in 2010, when there was a dispute between China and Japan on the East China Sea.

Pini AlthausSo China cut off rare earth exports from Japan for 40 days. Japan obviously being a significant user of rare earth elements for their high-tech manufacturing sector, that was stopped after 40 days. But in fact, it was President Obama that first made the United States aware of this, formed a division within the Department of Defense to handle this issue, but not much has happened. And we continue to be relying on China for these materials. And what has been made about trade war with China and whether the trade war is really the impetus for China withholding rare earth exports. And that is a huge misnomer. Whilst China had been talking or implying that they would cut off rare earth exports, the truth of the matter is that China, under it's made in China, 2025 mandate, its belt and road initiatives and others. And you seem to control the critical minerals and rare earth supply chain so that it can continue its dominance as a manufacturer or a global supplier of these materials and finished products.

Pini Althaus: It's the backbone of its economy. And in fact, China has become a net importer of rare earths from different countries like Miramar and others. So with that, they are decreasing the exports to countries like the United States, Japan and others.

Ryan Morfin: And was it ever a risk that the Chinese were going to turn off the exports of rare earth to the US during the trade war? How close were we to that? And was that ever some saber rattling that went down during trade negotiations?

Pini AlthausYeah, I think it was saber rattling. I think it would be paramount to an act of war. I can't say with any authority that that would not happen, but it would be probably, aside from war itself, it would be one of the most significant acts of war cutting the United States off from the ability to procure rare earths. But that being said, I mean, if you look at, as an analogy, the oil and gas sector and the reliance of the United States had for many, many years on OPEC countries to supply us with the oil. And we had embargoes and we had price manipulation by OPEC. This is far more significant given the ubiquity of where these rare earths go. And yes, we're always under the threat that China can cut off exports under the guise of a trade war or for any other nefarious reasons.

Pini AlthausBut I think even more importantly, to just as the natural run of the course of things with regards to their business and their desire to maintain themselves as the global leader in manufacturing and exporting of goods, China is in a position now where it actually requires these materials for their own domestic consumption and can legitimately cut off rare earth exports by stating that they need it for manufacturing and that would actually be somewhat correct. So we're in an extremely dangerous position here with this reliance on China. And it wouldn't just be China. If it was another country, it would be similar issues, not to the same extent, but reliance on one country for these materials is dangerous.

Ryan Morfin: And it's been mentioned in the past that in 2010, China flooded the market to really kill all the competitors in the rare earth mining industry. Where was the World Trade Organization during this period? And how did that play out and how does that set the chess board for China to run the tables?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. So the WTO stepped in when China cut off rare earth exports from Japan, I think it lasted for about 40 days because the US and Japan protested the WTO, and they stepped in and China resumed exports. While I'm not an expert on these trade matters, one thing that I am aware of is that one of the reasons why China had to resume the export of rare earths was it did not legitimately need all the rare earths for domestic consumption. So therefore it was a nefarious act, if you will, to cut off rare earth exports. Now that has changed, which means China have to cut off rare earth exports today, they have a legitimate case to say that they require these materials. There's a shortage of these materials and they require them for their own domestic purposes. It is the backbone of their economy and there's very little we could do about this today, which is why it's becoming an even more urgent issue.

Ryan Morfin:

And the US government started stockpiling some of these after that incident. Can you talk a little bit about what DOD and DOE has done to start making sure that there's not a critical supply shortage going forward, and is it enough?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, again, there is a national defense stock pile, and there are materials still that the United States needs to procure in order to shore up its stockpile. There are magnets, the finished magnet products as well, the United States government needs to stockpile. Again, there's a limited amount that the United States government has. It requires approval from Congress, whether it's in the NDAA or other approvals from Congress, to allocate monies for the national defense stock pile of these materials. That being said, there's no endless supply of these materials. And unfortunately, the apparatus, the way it's set up right now with the US government, it's going to continue to require having a secure supply chain of those materials for many, many years to come. So it's not a question of stockpiling for 10 or 20 years, and then this complacency and saying, we'll kick the can down the road. But keep in mind as well, Ryan, that US government accounts for low single digits of overall rare earth imports into the United States.

Pini Althaus:

We're talking about defense contractors, we're talking about the manufacturing sector. The direct impact this has on the economy, jobs, the automotive sector, and others is significant. So it's not just limited to the United States government. If you look at over the past couple of weeks, the sanctions that China have put on Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed, et cetera. I mean, the question is where are they going to get those materials? And if we go beyond that, you need rare earths for the 5G network. Now that Huawei has been banned from installing the network, not only in the US but other countries, we have to have the ability to get a secure supply of these materials as well. Which currently, again, trying to control the hundred percent. So it runs across the board, both for government, defense and manufacturing in this country.

Ryan Morfin:

Well, and so help me paint a picture for our audience. Does China have all the mines for rare earth, or they're the only ones who started mining it? Or are their mines globally dispersed and nobody's been doing the actual infrastructure to do the mining?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. So finding rare earth projects or rare earth elements is not the difficult part. It's finding them in significant quantities that makes a project economically viable. And part of that consideration are the environmental rigors that companies in the West have to adhere to. And China, even by their own admission, have had a complete disregard for mining these materials and even for processing these materials. And in fact, just the last week or so, the BBC did an expose on this, 60 Minutes has done an expose on this. But the Chinese have not denied this and have talked about cleaning up their act, but it has an effect on the bottom line for what the costs of mining and processing are if you have no environmental standards to adhere to. So China have exploited those rare earth projects they have, primarily in inner Mongolia, and have brought a number of projects online and quite quickly, and in a significant way, with a complete disregard for the environment.

Pini Althaus:

So it was seen as an environmental no-no in the West for many years. Now, what's happened over the past few years is you're starting to see rare earth projects in different parts of the world sprout up. You've got the Mountain World project in Australia owned by Linus, which is a producer of Nd and Pr, neodymium and praseodymium. So two of the light rare earths. They may have some heavy rare earths coming online at some point in time. And you've got Arafura, which is another company in Australia that we're working with to assist them with their processing so they don't have to send the materials to China for processing. But really these are a drop in the bucket for what the requirements are for the United States. And certainly what the requirements are for allied countries, the EU, et cetera. So there is a race, if you will, worldwide to start bringing projects online. The Chinese are very active in trying to secure assets outside of China.

Pini Althaus:

So in Africa. They have ownership of a project in Greenland. So there is somewhat of a race. The Australian government has stepped in and has started limiting the ability for China to own, or have ownership in, or off takes for the Australian rare earth projects. And that's part of the strategic Alliance between Australia and the US. Canada, similar thing as well. There are a number of projects that are looking to come alive, but these projects are, for the most part, will take many, many years to come online. We have to expedite the process. We have to assist with a [inaudible 00:14:41] supply chain and the domestic rare earth sector, because previously investors have been scared off by things like China flooding the market, which is not a possibility at this point in time, given that China can't actually afford to flood the market. They are already very heavily subsidizing their mine to magnet supply chain there.

Pini Althaus:

This is more now a case of being able to get production from non-Chinese sources so that the United States and allies have a viable, secure supply chain of these materials. And it's a concern worldwide. We speak to governments all over the world, and we're all facing the same issue. Some more than others, especially countries like Japan, that don't have their own rare earth projects there and are reliant on Australia where they've made some investments there. And in the United States, they've made an investment recently in Africa. So there is this race, if you will. And I think we've got a five-year window here to at least stand up a few projects worldwide. Otherwise we've lost this race and we will be dependent on China for many, many years to come. And Ryan, it's a bit of a hypocrisy. If you look at it where you've got materials going through clean, green energy applications, like electric vehicles, wind turbines, et cetera.

Pini Althaus:

That we're sourcing these materials from China, where they've, again by their own admission, has been complete environmental devastation to water bodies around these mines and processing facilities, to the communities. People have been getting sick around these projects yet we're putting these materials into our electric vehicles or wind turbines. It makes no sense at all. And people are starting to wake up to this. And that's why the sector is starting to see a lot of support come out of Congress and bi-partisan support. And in fact, it's one of the only bi-partisan issues right now in Washington. And it's good to see that some things decided to move in the right direction.

Ryan Morfin:

And is there a special process? You talk about the expense, is it really difficult to mine these? You have to go through a special chemical process to extract and clean and purify. Is it a lot harder than, say, gold or silver or some of the other, we'll call, more traditional elements?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. It's all about the processing to some extent. So if you look at MP Materials in California, which used to be Molycorp before they went through their bankruptcy. They are a miner of Cerium and Lanthanum, which are two of the light rare earths, the lower valued light rare earths. Given that they do not currently have processing technology, they are sending those materials to China for processing where China is tariffing those heavily. Linus is also, they're doing their processing work in Malaysia and elsewhere. So it's really about the processing at this stage. One of the things that we've done, after we put out our PDA last year with our upgraded resource, which now includes a significant amount of lithium. We make a decision that, based on the test work that we had done around our processing methodology, that we were not going to send our materials to China. That it's paramount for us to do this work in the United States and in a collaborative effort as well.

Pini Althaus:

We've been asked by some of our investors, "Well, why would you be looking to help other projects with their processing?" And the answer is simple. There's no one project or one company that's going to put China out of business or make a dent, or somehow be able to take care of the overall demand worldwide for rare earths and critical minerals. And it's very important for us to have processing capability in the West. So that was the impetus for us opening up our own rare earth and critical minerals processing facility earlier this year, which we did in Wheatridge, Colorado. And in fact, we've made some significant progress on the method that we're using for this. And we're starting to collaborate with Australian companies, Canadian companies. We're currently talking to a group over in Europe as well, because this has to be a collaborative effort.

Ryan Morfin:

How does Europe solve for these problems? Do they have this better under control than the US?

Pini Althaus:

No, they're in a far worse position than we are. The EU commission recently put out a report, I think, a couple of months ago that the requirement for rare earths is going to increase tenfold within a short period of time. Lithium 18 times. They don't really have rare earth projects. Again, there are the Greenland projects, which people have heard in the news recently. Those need to further development work so they don't have rare earth projects ready to come online there. There are a couple of lithium projects that are spread around Europe, but for the most part, Europe is in an even more precarious position. If you look at Germany with the auto manufacturers, you look at the big companies like ThyssenKrupp and others, all these countries and companies are looking for alternatives to China, because we've already seen in the news about China withholding or reducing exports of some of these rare earths that are required for these industries.

Ryan Morfin:

And you mentioned earlier the regulatory posture of the US makes it difficult to mine. Is it becoming a more bi-partisan issue that we need to maybe relax some regulation around the mining exercise, to incentivize private sector to come in and start producing this? Or is the Republican party versus the Democratic party on two separate pages of music?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. Good question, Ryan. I mean traditionally the Republican party is obviously being more pro-mining and in favor of less regulation when it comes to these things. With regards to our project, we're on Texas state land. So we don't trigger federal environmental permitting at this point in time. And obviously Texas being Texas, a mining state and oil and gas state, things are a lot easier in Texas than they are on projects on federal land where the Bureau of Land Management controls the environmental process around that. But the thing is here, and I don't want to step into what other companies are doing, et cetera, but we do need to be reasonable about allowing projects to come online if they're adhering to environmental standards that are acceptable worldwide. And what we do know, is that China is destroying the environment and cities and water bodies around their mines and processing facilities.

Pini Althaus:

We have standards here in the United States, and I think what we need to do is make it easier for companies to mine, while at the same time protecting the environment. And there are ways to do that. And we're definitely seeing buy-in from Congress, from both sides, with regards to looking how we can stand up a secure supply chain. And, obviously under the Obama administration, they had very strict regulations when it comes to mining. And that's changed under the Trump administration. Hopefully what we start to see is some normal middle ground that'll allow other projects to come online.

Ryan Morfin:

And typically in these rare earth mines, is it amalgamation of different minerals that are all consolidated together and you have to separate them out? Or do you ever find pure play, Europium, I can't even pronounce some of these. Gadolinium, Cerium. I mean, are they all mixed together and you've got to filter and sift them through, or are they pure play mines?

Pini Althaus:

No, they're generally they have a mix. So they're polymetallic projects. They have a number of different materials. Some projects, you more to what we call the light rare earths like MP in California or Linus in Australia. Our project is actually on the opposite end of the spectrum. We have a very high concentration of heavy rare earths. That being said, we do have to go through a process of separating these materials. But the case of our project where we've got 30 materials. We're not going to produce 30 materials. We're not going to market 30 materials. So what we're doing is we're focusing on the key materials that are marketable, that we need for permanent magnets, lithium as well, and working on the separation and the optimization of those materials in particular. But we're all faced with the same processing challenges and that is something that can't be set.

Pini Althaus:

There's no easy way to do this. There are different technologies that have been used in different parts of the world. So predominantly there's a process called solvent extraction, but it's big, it's bulky, it's not benign. It's a bespoke solution for one particular project. So it doesn't work for feedstock from other projects. What we've done is we're using a processing technology that's actually been around since the 1940s. It was part of the Manhattan Project. It's called continuous ion exchange. In fact, the Chinese use it to increase the purities from 99.99 to four nines, five nines, and even six nines. So for some applications you require higher purity levels. It's a far easier processing method to scale up and to take feedstock from other projects. In fact, we've demonstrated for the Department of Energy that we can take coal waste from Pennsylvania and do high purity separation of rare earths using our processing methods. So it's not a step that can be skipped unless one needs to send it to China for processing, which is not going to help us with our objectives here.

Ryan Morfin:

How many other, we'll call it, going concerns on any other businesses that are doing this, that are trying to, I guess, start the development of these mines. Are you guys one of a few or are you one of many? And is it an international or just a US game? Who's leading the charge at going after this?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, well, I'd say the Australians are leading it outside of China right now. You've got some really good projects in Australia. Again, more skewed toward the light rare earths. There's one more heavy rare earth project in Australia, which is not yet producing. The United States, you've got MP Materials, you've got Ucore in Alaska, you've got the Bear Lodge project in Wyoming, which is also another light rare earth project. So as far as a heavy rare earth project that looks like it will come online in the near term, that would be our project. In Canada there are a couple of projects there as well, and again, more skewed toward the light rare earths. But we really need to get as many of these projects online as possible. Because again, I don't see it as competition. We all have a problem doing supply agreements or offtake agreements for our materials.

Pini Althaus:

In fact, one of the things that we're going to have to consider is looking at potentially scaling up our production, based on the demand that we're already starting to see. And I think other companies would find that as well. So it's all about the economics of the project. You have projects that were economically viable back in 2012 or rare earth prices with 35% or so higher than they are today, and are not necessarily viable today. So that's the challenge as well, economically viable projects. And we've got to get as many of them online as possible. It takes many, many years. I mean, our project has had over $70 million put into it to get to where we are today, and we're close to getting to the production scenario. It all revolves around processing at this point in time.

Pini Althaus:

We'd be very happy to see another couple of projects come online, because this is extremely important for national security and for the economy as well. I mean, if you think about it, Ryan, if you've got a billion dollars of rare earth materials, that translates into a trillion dollars or I should say trillions of dollars of finished product. So you've got a magnet in your phone there that's worth a couple of dollars and the cell phone's a thousand dollars. And electric vehicles and defense applications even more.

Ryan Morfin:

Yeah, everyone has one of these iPhones now, and there's tremendous amounts of rare earth on the circuit boards here. And I think people take it for granted that that supply chain is not secure right now. So one question for you, there's talk of this maybe medium term to longterm, but there's talk about mining in space. Do you think that's a feasible option in the longterm, medium term? What are your thoughts on that?

Pini Althaus:

No, that's just ridiculous. I mean, we're trying to find ways to make mining on earth economically viable. I think the cost of going up to space would be more than what our capex will be bringing our entire project into production. I mean, we've got about a 350 to $400 million capex to bring 130 year mine life into production. I'm not an aerospace expert, but I think sending a rocket, building a rocket ship and sending it up, I think maybe on the fuel alone, you could bring a couple of projects into production. So unless we have a fortunate situation or an asteroid lands on earth, and fortunate if it lands somewhere where we don't care, I don't see how that happens. And if it's big enough, it's a problem as well. It's nonsense. And even, options aside of the deep sea mining for rare earths, I mean, you've got all sorts of environmental issues around that as well. I think we need to look at projects that we can bring online, that can be done so in an economic way, that can be done so in an environmentally responsible way.

Pini Althaus:

I mean, one of the things that we've done at our project is we've got in excess of 60% of the materials that have come out around top, will have a clean green energy applicability to them. So we're using the benign processing method. We're going to be using renewable energy on site. In fact, we will likely be putting a solar farm on site as well. We've talked to a couple of companies that have approached us about that, and we'll be a net producer of power for the surrounding area. So there are ways to do it which don't affect the environment. Obviously if there's a project that's situated on a sensitive area, that's a unique situation for that specific project. We've seen it with the Pebble project, which is not a rare earth project. The Pebble project in Alaska where their environmental concerns is we've been recognized by both Republicans and Democrats, but we have to be reasonable about the projects that don't have environmental concerns.

Ryan Morfin:

So Pini, in season two, we ask all of our guests a series of six questions. They're usually, yes, no questions, but trying to take a survey of our conversations. And if you want to add a little context to the yes or no, feel free, but here goes the first question. If there was a COVID vaccine available today, would you take it?

Pini Althaus:


Ryan Morfin:

Who do you think is going to win the election?

Pini Althaus:

Which election?

Ryan Morfin:

The US election.

Pini Althaus:

Well, I think it looks like Joe Biden's going to win it, but I think what happens, if we go past January six from my understanding is that the house will vote on it and it's one vote per state. But I don't know if I see it getting there at this point in time. I really don't have a crystal ball.

Ryan Morfin:

Third question. What type of economic recovery are we in? What type of shape is it taking? A V-shape, W, U, L?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, I think 2021 is going to be challenging. I think we've been, and rightly so. I mean, we've had no choice as of almost every other country. We've been printing money for the past year because of COVID. And I think we've got to brace ourselves that, at some point in time, the chickens come home to roost. It was a necessary step. People needed it on an individual level. Businesses needed it as well, but I think we've got to do whatever we can to stimulate the economy, give people confidence to go out and work again, employ people. So I think we've got to watch ourselves, especially in 2021. And I have some concerns, but long-term, I think the approach in the United States is a healthy one.

Ryan Morfin:

During lockdown this summer and quarantine, was there anything in particular that you accomplished that you're particularly proud of?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah. A great amount of family time, which, if you would've asked me a few years ago if I could sit at home and be at home for six months, I would have told you absolutely not. I wouldn't be able to do it for six days, but it has... I'm sure it's done this with a lot of families as well. It's brought families together. We had a baby actually last year on Thanksgiving. So I was doing a lot of travel at the time and thought I wouldn't get to see my daughter in her first year or couple of years too often. And being home with her every day is actually been just the most amazing experience. So thankful at least for some silver lining in COVID.

Ryan Morfin:

Are there any silver linings that you see in the economy going into 2021?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, I think we've gone through an absolute beating and it looks like we've got the ability to come out of it. And I think that's a testament to how strong the economy was built up in the years preceding COVID. So overall I remain an optimist. I mean, we are a country built on opportunity and going out and making it happen. And we're not a socialist country sitting and waiting for people to send us paychecks or wealth distribution or anything like that. I think the American dream still lives on. I think if you go out and you're willing to work and put your head to it and heart in it, I think we do have the ability to climb out of it. So if we look at what the economy is doing over the past few weeks, it looks like it's starting to rebound. And to me, that's assuring because it could go completely one way as well.

Ryan Morfin:

And the last question is, is there anything that you're watching, or listening to, or reading today that has been impactful on your thinking that you'd like to share with our audience?

Pini Althaus:

Yeah, that's a good question. I think it's been more personal stories. The news, I sort of take that in context or with more than a grain of salt. In some cases stay off the news channels for a number of days at a time, it became quite repetitive. But I think on the personal side, talking to friends, my family's all back home in Australia, they've just come out of 110 day lockdown, which we can't relate to that. It's been very trying on them and seeing the fortitude that they've had to come out of that and stay intact. I think the mental health issues that will come out of COVID are going to have a far longer effect than the economic issues. I think we're going to have to focus on mental health issues in this country for a long time to come.

Pini Althaus:

The impact on kids has been significant with regards to lockdown or remote schooling, et cetera. But to see people come through it. I think it's a testament to people in general and to the country and other countries as well, to see got that fortitude and survival instinct to try to get through whatever adversity we can. So hearing the personal stories, the challenges that people have gone through, I think it's made me a lot more aware of things that I have to be thankful for and where we can help out other people as well. I think we have to be united going forward because there are things...

Pini Althaus:

I think one of the things that COVID has shown us is we can get into this complacency and life goes on and we go one day to the next. And all of a sudden we get hit by something that affects everybody equally. I mean, COVID, whilst there were groups of people, whether it was the elderly or people with underlying health conditions, that got hit the worst. I mean, we all got hit in some form or another. So really, this should be something that unites us, not divides us.

Ryan Morfin:

Well, Pini, I appreciate you coming on today to talk to us a little bit about the supply chain crimp on rare earth and we'll definitely keep an eye on it and would love to have you back in the future.

Pini Althaus:

Thank you, Ryan. Thanks for having me.

Ryan Morfin:

Absolutely. Thank you. Bye-bye. Thanks for watching Non-Beta Alpha. And before we go, please remember to like, and subscribe on Apple podcasts and our YouTube channel. This is Non-Beta Alpha, and now you know.


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