The Driverless Beer Truck

  • Driverless cars: So close, yet so far away
  • But driverless trucks are already delivering goods… and it’s investable
  • 2008? What’s that? Americans pull out the plastic
  • The misplaced optimism of small-business owners
  • An important free-speech court battle… cash, coke and germs… the pitfalls of being “anti-partisan”… and more!

For all the buzz these days about driverless cars, it will be another decade before they’re commonplace. But it’s possible to collect big gains from the trend within the next six months.

“Step by step, cars are getting closer to driving themselves,” says our resident trend forecaster Gerald Celente. “As the technology progresses, the time to set yourself up for profits is now, while the car companies complete their baby steps.”

We had a few things to say last year about autonomous vehicle technology. Not as much to say about the investing angle, though. It’s still early days. But that’s starting to change…

First, a quick reality check: Every automaker will market self-driving cars… but not until 2025, says Gerald.

“In an industry beset with frequent and serious recalls, the technological and legal liability challenges are considerable. And it slows progress down.”

Now the flipside: “While the transition to driverless vehicles may not come as fast as some suggest,” Gerald goes on, “already, the automotive industry is making strides in adding driverless technology to new makes and models of vehicles.

“Take a walk around a nice car dealership — you’ll find that cars that can brake and park themselves, spot distracted pedestrians and steer away from possible collisions are now standard gear on pricier models.”

From here, it’s a small leap to self-steering.

“Tiny cameras mounted on a car’s front corners spot traffic lane lines and send information to an onboard computer,” Mr. Celente explains. “The computer interprets the image. It decides whether the cameras are seeing lane lines. If they are, the computer sends a steady stream of instructions to servomechanisms that adjust the steering this way or that to stay between the lines.

“More advanced systems not only detect objects ahead, but also identify them. For example, Mercedes’ electronic eye connects cameras with an onboard computer using 3-D imaging software and a bank of more than 1.5 million images. That lets it differentiate among a cardboard box, puddle and tot on a tricycle.”

But these advances are just “Level 2” stuff on the road to automated vehicles.

“There are five levels,” Gerald tells us. “Level 0 means the car is a brainless pile of metal and plastic. Level 1 cars take on a simple task, such as controlling cruising speed. Level 2 vehicles have a repertoire of skills; Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ is the best-known example.

“Level 4 is an automated ride that functions in a defined area, such as an industrial park or downtown neighborhood. Level 5 lets you nap in the back seat while the car goes anywhere you tell it to.”

Uh, sir, you left out Level 3. What’s with that?

“Carmakers are reluctant to enter Level 3,” Gerald says. “It’s where drivers and cars share control. That raises complicated issues: In an emergency, what if the car and driver assume the other will take charge? Which tasks will be left to which? Will the carmaker and driver blame the other for accidents?

“Several car companies hope to avoid that quagmire by skipping Level 3 and going right to Level 4. Ford, for example, promises to have Level 4 cars on the market by 2021.”

But while autonomous car technology is taking its sweet time… autonomous truck technology is taking off right now.

Last October, Anheuser-Busch paired with a tech startup called Otto to send a fully automated truck delivering beer up and down Interstate 25 in Colorado — starting in Fort Collins, continuing through Denver, ending in Colorado Springs.

Look ma, no hands! Actually, no driver…

Yes, there was a driver on board… but he stayed in the sleeper cab.

What’s the difference between cars and trucks? “Growth will evolve quicker in commercial arenas,” says Gerald, “where trucks and transport vehicles can be better controlled within defined routes.

“Commercial transport vehicles, especially in regions where well-defined routes and traffic patterns are accommodating, will follow driverless trucks in this evolution. It’s already happening. In 2017, it will continue to take shape.”

Indeed, autonomous truck technology counts as one of Gerald’s five big profit opportunities in 2017 — five trends he’s plotted on what he calls his “road map to riches.”

As a reminder, he’ll unfold this map and lay it on the table for you to see during a live online briefing Thursday at 7:00 p.m. EST. This event is FREE to access — as long as you RSVP with your email address so we know how much server capacity to set aside. Here’s where to sign up.

To the markets, where nearly every asset class is in a modest rally.

The Dow is up a quarter percent, to 19,930; small caps are performing stronger. Bonds are rallying, pushing yields down; the yield on a 10-year Treasury note is back to 2.37%. And gold is up to $1,187, its best showing in more than a month.

Crude, however, continues to slump. At last check, a barrel of West Texas Intermediate has shed 40 more cents, to $51.56.

No major economic numbers today… but after we went to virtual press yesterday, the Federal Reserve revealed a massive increase in Americans’ credit card balances for November. Revolving credit, as it’s known, leaped $11 billion — one of the biggest monthly increases since the housing bubble. The total is now $992.4 billion.

Not that spending out of an empty pocket is a good thing, but it probably adds up to a good holiday season for retailers — we’ll have a better idea of that when the retail sales figures come out on Friday.

Misplaced hopes, continued: Small-business owners are beyond giddy about a Trump presidency now.

The National Federation of Independent Business is out with its monthly optimism index. Last month’s number, the first since the election, showed a respectable increase. This month’s number positively soared — to the highest level in 12 years.

About half of that increase is driven by business owners who say they expect the economy to improve.

Yikes… The NFIB doesn’t say so, but those hopes seem to ride on the expectation of Obamacare repeal, tax cuts, a big public-works spending program…

If you’ve been reading The 5 regularly since the election, you know both of our macro mavens suspect Trump’s agenda will get waylaid by a GOP Congress prone to infighting over the budget deficit and debt ceiling. Jim Rickards is reasonably certain on this score; David Stockman is absolutely certain, based in part on his experience as Reagan’s budget director. Reminder: The debt ceiling comes back into force on March 15.

Even the NFIB seems taken aback by the numbers from its own survey; this month’s edition is buried on the organization’s website.

Taking up the good fight against regulators: IMDb, the Internet Movie Database, is going to court to fight a California law censoring the publication of truthful information online.

As we explained when Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on the law last fall, actors can now ask IMDb or similar sites to delete their birth dates and ages — on the theory that some people who consult the site might be potential employers in Hollywood, who then might perform acts of age discrimination.

Jan. 1 was the deadline for IMDb — a unit of Amazon since 1998 — to remove that information… and IMDb has asked a federal court for a preliminary injunction. The law “plainly violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and cannot be enforced,” says the filing.

On the subject of cash and all the germs it carries, a reader writes: “Without the bacterial cocktail that we are exposed to on our money, our immune systems might well atrophy and become weaker.

“I say that it may be possible that our health is better because of that exposure. Since I am retired, I don’t come into contact with many different people, so this is my way of keeping up my immunity and keeping the bugs at bay. Love The 5!”

Adds another: “Thirty years ago, we were told one out of three $100 bills showed traces of cocaine residue (apparently from being used as an improvised straw). Ten years ago, we were told one out of three $1 bills had spent at least a small amount of time in a stripper’s butt crack. Now we are being told all bills contain untold pathogens designed to kill us all.

“If we survived the coke and tattooed silicone scares, I’m pretty sure we can ride this one out as well. Luv ya.”

The 5: Ah, memories. Back around 1994, scores of local TV newsrooms around the country performed a ratings stunt that went like this: Ask several “pillars of the community” — politicos, clergy, business leaders — to take a $20 bill from their wallet and agree to have the bill run through a drug lab. Inevitably, most or all of the bills would come back with coke residue.

Your editor supervised the execution of this stunt at a station in Green Bay…

To the mailbag: “So how does the person who penned ‘partisan demagoguery’ respond to the fact that the Democratic Party was caught working to destroy the lead of their own Bernie Sanders and then further ‘hack’ the election results by obtaining advance questions of the debates from CNN?” writes one of our regulars.

“Why isn’t this individual equally outraged at the Democrats? Why not declare: ‘There is nothing ‘cheap’ or ‘partisan’ in calling for a robust response to a direct attack on the U.S. electoral system of this country by the Democrats?

“At least that assertion is supported by evidence of emails that were easily obtained as a result of simple phishing of Podesta’s emails and from Clinton’s unsecured private server. Where is the outrage over those facts?

“It still amazes me that seemingly intelligent people can be so easily distracted and misled from the facts and willingly follow a fake news story by the media and politicians — of both parties. ‘Look! Squirrel!’ And off they go again.

“I reiterate a rallying cry for the people… IT’S THE GOVERNMENT, STUPID!”

The fallout doesn’t end there: “Please don’t describe yourself as ‘anti-partisan,’” says a reader’s entreaty — which is surely a first.

“You are partisan against using the political system (i.e., force) against others who haven’t done anything to violate the rights of their fellows. Nothing wrong with being partisan for peace, liberty and freedom, or, some believe, in self-defense or defense of others against aggressors.

“I’m concerned that the baby be thrown out with the bath water because of the movement to ban political parties (groups of people who organize to be partisan). This battle has already cost alternative parties ballot access in California by going to a ‘nonpartisan’ ballot, where only the top two vote-getters compete regardless of party, and where unprincipled strangers get to vote in primaries to impose their choices on these membership organizations without the consent of the members. Partisanship is free speech and freedom in action and should be defended.

“The government is prohibited from being partisan in its application of law, but we don’t seem to enforce that very well.”

“Made The 5,” writes the reader who got this whole thing started yesterday. “My joy is complete!”

The 5: What, were you just trolling us!? Dayum…

Best regards,

Dave Gonigam
The 5 Min. Forecast

P.S. A note from Jim Rickards…

“Everyone knows what’s at stake for a tiny gold company that delivers a high-grade gold deposit.

“Oftentimes, they’re bought out by gold majors for billions of dollars — overnight.

“Well, my lead geologist and I think we’ve found the most valuable gold of all.

“And the company that owns it is trading for just $9 per share.

Get the urgent details only found on this page here.”

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam

Dave Gonigam has been managing editor of The 5 Min. Forecast since September 2010. Before joining the research and writing team at Agora Financial in 2007, he worked for 20 years as an Emmy award-winning television news producer.

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