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There’s all this buzz around Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. What is she doing there? Why all the stress? Why is China upset?
Also, Yellen got China to stop the stimulus. If China starts the stimulus, will that be a really good thing for Chinese equities? And what does that do for the CNY?
We also discussed the likelihood now with Pelosi’s visit that China will start stimulating. And what does that mean for oil and gas imports and Europe?
Will China try to hurt US companies that are in China? Do you think they could push against ex-pats in China and make life difficult for them? What are possible aggressive moves that China could take? Like cyberattacks?
There have been some potential whispers of China taking over some of Taiwan’s small islands to make a statement. Is that possible? And will they take it on other countries like India? What is the likelihood of China and the US in direct warfare engagement in the next twelve months?
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This is the 28th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.
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TN: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash, and we’ve got a special Week Ahead right now. We’re joined by Albert Marko and Dr. Christopher Balding to talk about the Taiwan-China issues around Nancy Pelosi’s visit.
Before we get started, I want to let you know about a special we’re having for CI Futures. We’re doing CI Futures for $50 a month. With CI Futures, we forecast about 2000 economic variables every month and about 900 market variables (currencies, commodities, equities) every week. That $50 deal is for the next couple of weeks. And you don’t even have to take a year-long commitment. For the next couple of weeks, you do it a month at a time, and it’s $50 a month.
So let’s get onto the show, guys. Thanks again for joining. I appreciate it.
I want to get into there’s all this buzz around Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and I want to take a step back and go, why all the stress? Why is China upset? Because I think there are a lot of loaded assumptions in the discussions that are happening. So can you guys talk us through a little bit, maybe? Chris, if you want to start, why is China so upset about this?
CB: So there’s the full history of the claim of Taiwan as Chinese territory. They refer to it as a Chinese province. That’s the general background. I’m going to assume that most of your listeners or watchers already know that.
However, if we jump ahead to this specific visit, to be honest, I’m a little bit mystified as to why this
specific visit has turned into this small crisis. Trump was sending a cabinet secretary and undersecretaries. There’s been a steady stream of Congresspeople to Taiwan. So why this specific visit? I think there’s very reasonable speculation we can go through those. But why this specific visit has turned into what it has, I think there are probably only a couple of people that could answer that question.
TN: Okay, Albert?
AM: Well, to expand on that, I can understand why the Chinese have a little bit more drama involved in this visit simply because the economic situation in China at the moment is so dire for Xi that they need a little bit of a distraction just to get the headlines out of the way at the moment.
TN: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. And when I think about this, it’s, yes, you can go back into all the history and the UNC, the 1971 and all of this stuff, but I think my view is democrats need a distraction for the midterms. You have the Afghanistan anniversary coming up, all of these things coming up. A bill was just passed that either does or doesn’t raise taxes on a lot of the population. There’s a lot of discussion around that.
Are we in a recession? Not a recession. I think this is a convenient foreign policy issue for Democrats to grab onto before the Midterms to raise some external issues that are a little bit more mysterious for people, a little more exciting. Will there be a war? That sort of thing.
And I think, Albert, you’re exactly right. With the November meeting coming up in Beijing, where Xi is supposed to be this golden boy and a lot more power and all this stuff, the new Mao or whatever, I think China’s economy is in a horrific state. I think the provinces and cities are not falling in line with Beijing, and I think politics in China is terrible. So I think this helps galvanize people in China, it helps galvanize people in the US. And I think it’s more of a convenient event than anything.
AM: It is a convenient event. Other issues are going on within China with the actual US.
Fed and Yellen are Yellen got them to capitulate to stop stimulus to fight inflation. So from the Chinese perspective, they’re a little bit they feel a little bit betrayed here. Seeing Nancy Pelosi
nude sunbathing on Taiwanese beaches, it’s like, what are you doing?
TN: Yellen got them to capitulate, to stop safely. So you’re saying Yellen got China to stop stimulus?
AM: Yeah. I don’t know if it was direct or indirect, but Xi warned them to don’t stimulate while we’re trying to combat inflation. Look what happened to the Russians. And from the Chinese elite perspective, looking at the oligarchs in Russia, being completely isolated from the rest of the world, that’s just something that a pill that they didn’t want to swallow, and they were glad to hold off stimulus up until this event. Now, I don’t know, after this event, the Chinese might renege on that gentleman’s deal, but we’ll see at this point.
TN: Okay, let me pursue that in a minute because that’s interesting. So if you’re saying that the Chinese were holding back stimulus because of a quiet bargain, and they reverse on that and they start, as I’ve been expecting them to do for the last six months, just dump truckloads of cash on the squares in Chinese cities, if they start doing that, that could potentially actually be a perfect thing for Chinese equities, right?
AM: Well, of course, but it’s negative for the US inflation and the commodities will start ripping. It’s an asymmetric shot against the US. So it’s something that they have in their toolbox and they haven’t used yet, but they certainly could after this.
TN: Okay, and so what does that do for the CNY, guys? If China starts stimulus, if it’s fiscal that appreciates CNY, at least from a textbook perspective, right?
AM: Yeah, from the textbook perspective, sure. They control whatever they want to set the CNY at, so, I mean, I can’t see them allowing it to shoot up too far just because they are an export-dependent economy.
TN: Okay, Chris.
CB: I just wanted to circle back to what we were talking about before jumping back to the CNY issue because this has been a real puzzle about they’ve been pretty restrained, and there are all kinds of questions as to why that is.
And again, I wish we could provide good, solid answers about that. I think a lot of the issues, like with Taiwan and stuff like that, I think there’s like, Tony, you mentioned the economy. I think that’s distinctly possible. I think it’s also one of those issues. If you go back right after the first of the year, they changed the language about reunification and how they were going to solve that problem for the new era.
What’s the new era? It’s Xi getting the third term. So is it possible that the economy is, like, pushing this along, egging it forward, so to speak? Yeah, I think that’s possible. I also think there’s much more like Xi has staked his credibility on, I’m making China great again, come hell or high water, if I have to drive it off a cliff to do it. That’s part of what you’re seeing.
AM: Yeah, I agree with Balding on that one. The only caveat that I would throw in there is that would be exactly the case up until the Ukraine situation where Russia got their butts handed to them. 30,000 troops lost, flagship battleship gone, sunk.
From the PLA perspective, it’s like, hey, what happens if we lose? Because it’s not a 0% chance, right? What happens if we get decimated? Our military could be set back 50 years, 100 years. And I think that at this point, it’s too much of a cost for them to take an adventure in Taiwan.
CB: Yeah. I will say you and I disagreed on this previously. Like, what were the risks? Let’s assume Ukraine had never happened. I would say there’s probably a not immaterial chance of something
happening with China and Taiwan in the next, let’s say six to 18 months.
At this point, I definitely would push that back a little bit. If something’s going to happen, I think, within the next few years. But absolutely. I think they’re going back to the drawing board because they see what’s happening to Russia in Ukraine, and they’re like, there’s absolutely no way in hell this can happen to us.
AM: Yeah, they saw Afghanistan as a point where they could probably take some territory away from the US sphere of influence. But then again, Ukraine happened, and that threw everything through, wrenching all the plans.
TN: Okay, so let’s talk about that a little bit. The Russia-Ukraine angle is interesting. So when sanctions were put on Russia, Russia can do okay without sanctions, not thrive, but can survive. But China is so intermingled in global trade that if sanctions are put on China, it could be very difficult for them. Right. Or what am I missing?
AM: It could, but they’re the world’s manufacturing base, so it’s like, you put sanctions on them, they’ll put sanctions, they’ll do something asymmetric, and it’ll hurt the West more than the West can hurt China, to be honest. I mean, The US can handle it. The Europeans can’t. They’re already in dire rates.
CB: The other thing that I would add to that is people make the sanctions argument. I don’t buy the sanctions argument for two specific reasons. One is basically what they import. The bulk of what they import from the rest of the world is raw materials. And that’s not coming from Western Europe, Japan, or other places like that.
Then the high-tech products that they do import, let’s say very high-grade chips, are going into things like iPhones and then being re-exported right away. Okay, so they’re not on an import basis highly dependent on the rest of the world.
They’ve made two bets with that in mind. Number one is that they can convince people not to block their exports, meaning Chinese exports to their country. Number one. And then also that other countries are so dependent upon them that they can’t. Okay?
What would happen to Walmart during the Christmas season if they couldn’t buy from China? Okay.
It’s a simple example, but it does throw a monkey wrench in there.
AM: Caterpillar is another one. The Chinese have done a marvelous job of using US agricultural companies against the US political system. So they’ve got a noose around them. Buick also. GM, Buick, Caterpillar. I can name half a dozen companies. Yeah.
TN: My main focus in terms of sanctions was food. These other things, of course, they’re importing goods, really, largely to be transformed and re-exported. Food is the main issue that I would think would be damaging to China, potentially.
AM: Yeah, that was always one of my main points of contention about a war starting with Taiwan is those ports being shut down in the eastern part of China, it would be devastating. They would have food and security problems. The Chinese middle class has been growing. They don’t want rice anymore. They want noodles and dumplings. So they have a persistent food issue that just gets worse and worse every year.
TN: Right. Okay, so let’s go into this. I saw Pelosi kind of pull up into that. I think it was the Grand Hyatt she’s staying at in Taipei. And really, what is she doing there? Like official, non Official. What do you think she’s doing there?
AM: That’s a pure distraction from the midterms in the economy in the US at the moment. It’s an easy distraction. They know China is not going to do anything outlandish. They’re a pretty pragmatic country when everything is said and done anyway. So it’s like, what negative is there for them, for Pelosi and the Democrats at the moment?
CB: Here’s the only reason I’m going to disagree with you, and you said something very similar earlier, Tony. Here’s. The only reason I’m going to disagree with you is that this assumes a level of evil genius out of the White House and maniacal thinking that I just don’t think they’re capable of, okay? Okay. Again, I could be wrong.
AM: I just don’t see these guys as the evil genius that says, hey, we need a distraction, what can we do?
I don’t think it’s an evil genius. I think that’s a little bit too strong. The game of scapegoating and distractions in the beltway is as old as time itself. The professionals at it. They can see what they want to do to pull people’s eyes away from one issue onto another and they have the media under their grips so they can do anything. They want to distract people. So the evil genius part comes in what are, steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 after this? Because now the Chinese can retaliate and I don’t think the US is prepared for that.
TN: In what ways?
AM: Well, I mean if the Chinese decide to start simulating next week and commodities start ripping, inflation in, the US is going to have a ten print, 10% print on CPI come October, November, then what? You’re in the smack middle of the midterms looking at 10% inflation and you’re losing 50, 60 seats in the House and you’re losing the Senate and then you have the Republican take over and start throwing out hearings against Joe Biden every week like they did Trump. It’s chaotic.
TN: Okay, so that’s an interesting scenario. Okay, I want to ask about that and then I want to ask another question about a potential reason for visiting. But you’ve mentioned that a couple of times. So what’s the likelihood, since they’ve said that they’ll undertake serious pushback, is there a likelihood that they’ll do that? Do you put that at a 50, 60, or 70% likelihood or do you think they’ll continue to hold?
AM: I think after this visit by Nancy Pelosi, it’s a greater than 50% chance that the Chinese start stimulating a little bit earlier than scheduled with commodities ripping.
TN: Okay, so that means more oil and gas imports, more pressure on gas prices, and diesel prices. All this would hurt Europe too?
AM: Oh, of course. Europe has got massive energy issues going forward and they’re unsolvable within six months.
TN: Okay, so so far I’m hearing potentially bullish Chinese equities and potentially bullish commodities, particularly energy, commodities, and industrial metals, right?
AM: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Full discretion, I’m going into KWEB. I have Baba at this low with this Pelosi landing. So for me, it’s just like Chinese equities have been battered with no stimulus. We’re down to the point. Yeah.
TN: Okay, so on tech, you mentioned tech. Is it possible that with the chips act just passing in the US, this is the one that supports semiconductor companies for putting operations in the US? Is it possible that there is a message being passed to TSMC or any of the strategic industry guys in Taiwan by Pelosi and her staff? Is that a possibility? And if so, what do you think it would be?
CB: Absolutely. I would say that that’s one of the things I don’t know if you caught this statement from the chairman of TSMC, but he gave an interview just a day or two ago and he said, “China, if you invade, like all of our plants on the island are dust, they’re worthless. There’s nothing there.” Because I can guarantee you that. I’m sure that the US Air Force would have the coordinates for every TSMC plant that it’s like, hey, we’re going to make sure that China doesn’t get them. I’m sure that TSMC, at this point, their reputation is being a pretty well-run company, very attuned to security issues. And so I’m sure that they have multiple redundancy plans and multiple security plans to address that if China is locked in. So you have to think that TSMC, all the way down to all their key suppliers and things like that, are in some type of meeting here with Nancy.
AM: Yeah. I’m not very keen on this chip sack bill. I think it’s just fireworks and stringers and ticker tape raid. But there are EPA issues to deal with when chip-making also. So no matter what, whatever they want to throw out for legislation, as long as the EPA is hampering manufacturing in the United States, manufacturing is going nowhere, at least for the next five to ten years in the United States. So this chip act, although it gives a little bit of pressure, don’t think it’s going to be that big of a driver in the next five to ten years.
TN: Okay. I want to talk to you guys a little bit about the pushback that China may give to US companies. So China already blocked a $5 billion battery investment from a Chinese company in the US. That was just announced today, and those batteries were supposed to support Tesla and Ford, I believe. Do you think China may try to hurt US companies that are in China? Could they directly take action against, say, Tesla or GM or Ford or GE or any of the American companies that are sitting in China? Do you think they could push against, say, ex-pats in China, and US ex-pats in China and make life difficult for them?
Because if we look, for example, at what happened in Russia, we have a lot of Western companies that have abandoned their operations in Russia over the last eight months. Right? Is it possible that American companies get pushback from the Chinese government?
Because if I think of what the Chinese government did to Japanese companies in 2012 if you remember that. It was very aggressive. They were instigating protests against Japanese companies, Japanese expatriates, and Japanese government officials. Could they instigate that against the US? Companies? And could they push us Companies to just give up their operations in China?
CB: Well, the only way I would rephrase that is how would that differ from normal standard operating practice? Even within the past couple of years, there’s been a massive flood of not just Americans, but all foreigners out of China. And these are everything from journalists to just basic school teachers, English teachers. Okay? So it doesn’t even matter if you’re a sensitive national or in the sensitive industry or what China deems is sensitive.
This goes for businesses as well. You heard stories about companies saying, oh, well, I have 10 million, $50 million of profits I can repatriate. I’m going to close down my China plant and go to Vietnam. And basically what they do is they just freeze everything and said, oh, you have an unpaid tax bill, coincidentally, the same amount of money that you were going to repatriate. And so they just have to walk away from everything or sell it for one dollar or something like that.
So when you talk about that, I think that’s entirely fair. I think that’s going to happen. I think the only people that are going to effectively remain there till the end are the Shells of the world that didn’t get out of Russia until the bombs and the missiles started flying. I think it’s going to be the same with China.
TN: Are you saying that you think some US companies will in the next, let’s say, two to three years, abandon their China operations? Do you think that’s feasible?
CB: Oh, yeah.
CB: I think it’s already been happening. It’s not announced. You see a couple of announcements here and there. You hear about many more talking to people that are still there. But yeah.
TN: Albert, what do you think about that?
AM: Yes, they will. There’ll be certain companies that they go after depending on whatever political calculations they can throw at the US, for sure, without question. They’ve done this. I mean, Christopher said they’ve done this in the past. Nothing new.
TN: Right. So how would that start? Would they try to push aggressively to localize leadership? I know a lot of that leadership is already localized, but would they almost make it mandatory for leadership of, say, US companies to be Chinese and then kind of cascade that through? Or what would the early phases of that look like?
AM: I think the early phases would be phantom tax violations or some kind of fines or fees that just pop up out of Chinese mountains. Who knows? Do you know what I mean? So I think that’s the first thing you’d want to look at if they start doing it.
CB: Yeah. And again, what you’re talking about, I think, is basically what’s been happening for the past couple of years is whether it’s the phantom tax bill, whether it’s all senior leadership has to be Chinese or party members or all those kinds of things. I mean, when you’re asking about that in the future, it is like, well, how would that differ from the past two to three years?
TN: Right. It feels like we’re on the precipice of that. And some of us have been talking about kind of the end of the Asian century for probably the last five to eight to ten years. And China is what seems slow, but very rapid decline in terms of its ability to grow. Not the fact that it’s not already huge, but its ability to continue to accelerate growth. That’s gone. Those days are gone. Right.
And when growth stalls out, the opportunity becomes a zero-sum game. And it’s about market share. It’s about getting your piece of the pie. Not a growing pie, but a stagnant pie. And that’s when things get very difficult in authoritarian countries. Right?
CB: Well, I think to add upon that, they were following the Asian growth model of build, in simple terms, run large trade surpluses, controlled currency, build apartments. It’s a pretty tried, true path. But one of the things that are very different is if Malaysia runs a large fiscal surplus, nobody cares. If Taiwan runs a significant trade surplus, some people care, but whatever.
For every percentage point of GDP in trade surpluses that China runs at this point when you’re the second largest economy in the world, that is a massive, massive number, not just against your economy, but against the global economy. And that’s going to create massive, massive dislocations elsewhere.
And then the other thing is that when your only source of growth is basically building apartments, and now they’ve got like 20% to 25% of these apartments all over the country, empty and household debt that is significantly above the OECD average. It doesn’t make any sense, and this is what they’re running up against. Okay.
AM: To take that a step further, it’s like if you have low growth and your economy starts in the waiver, how do you fund a growing military to combat the United States on a global level? The math doesn’t add up. Very difficult.
TN: Okay, I want to move next on to things like cyberattacks. Chris, I know that you’re very focused on kind of the IT side of what the Chinese government is doing. Can you talk us through some of the potential, maybe aggressive moves that China could take in the wake of this?
CB: Sure. So there are all kinds of things. And one of the things, you saw today where they were looking at, they shut down the Taiwanese Prime Minister’s website. But that’s, to be honest, small potatoes.
The type of thing that you would look at, and you’ve seen this a little bit in Ukraine is where they went after things like nuclear reactors and other things like that. So if you’re looking at this, one of the types of things that you would be looking at would be, for instance, Taiwan being an island, there’s a handful of spots where cables come ashore. So what would you be looking at? Because if you wanted to make it hard on Taiwan, that might be something that you would go after.
If you had the capability, and they are very likely due to some capacity, you would be looking at putting bugs in the TSMC type of production capacity. So those would be the types of things to narrow it to Taiwan. But generally speaking, if you aren’t being hacked by China, that basically just renders your place in the universe irrelevant, almost, because they’ve pretty much gone after everybody.
TN: Right. Albert, what do you think?
AM: Yeah, I mean, the Chinese are prevalent in the cyber terrorism space. They’re out there stealing trade secrets and corporate secrets all over the place, especially in the United States. And I don’t foresee that slowing down at all. If anything ramping up, and they’re good at it, and we have lacked security in the United States, and it needs to be tightened up.
TN: Right. And we intentionally, for the viewers, did not record this on Zoom. That’s an indication of some of the thoughts around there.
Now, guys, there are some islands between Taiwan and China, and there have been some potential whispers of China taking over, say, some islands, some of Taiwan’s small islands to make a statement. Do you think that’s possible?
AM: It’s possible. I don’t understand why they would try even risking that. What if they lose a few ships?
What if they lose 1000 or 2000 troops? It’s like all of a sudden you look weak and then you’re going to be forced into a position to do something bigger. It would make no sense from my perspective.
CB: The only reason I kind of disagrees is that there’s a handful of some of these very small islands, so I doubt that they have any military hardware there. And some of them are literally, I think, as close as like 10 miles off the Chinese mainland like that. They’re just that close. And so just as a symbolic act, something like that wouldn’t surprise me at all.
AM: It won’t surprise me at all. I’m just saying anything closer to the Taiwanese actual island, I would be wary of seeing the Chinese try to take them.
TN: I spent a week on one of those islands in 2009 waiting out of typhoon, and it was an experience, but I think it’s feasible. It’s an island off of Taidong, which is no, that’s on the southwest side. They wouldn’t do that. They would do it on the I was on the southeast side. They would do it on the southwest side or the northwest side. But there are lots of islands, very small islands off of Taiwan.
Okay, good. What else I think do we need to be thinking about here? There has been talking of the Biden administration removing trade tariffs and this sort of thing on China. Do you think that could be something that the administration aggressively goes after to kind of compensate China? Or do you think this would maybe solidify those tariffs?
AM: I don’t think so. Honestly, I would rather see what the rhetoric is around the oil market price cap that they’ve been talking about with G7 and the China terrorists might fall into that realm in negotiations. I would want to see what China’s reaction is to the oil cap at the moment.
CB: I’d be very skeptical at this moment of some type of tariff rollback because for them to… The White House has very badly managed this entire situation where they created a situation where if she went or if she didn’t go, they were losers. They’re not looking bad. And so if they were to roll back tariffs at this point, I think they would get they would get slaughtered, even among the Democrats at this point. So I think that’s very unlikely.
But look, Jake Sullivan is the guy that a decade ago was proposing, what do you say we walk up to China and give them back Taiwan in exchange for peace in our time? So with these guys, anything is possible.
AM: This is the worst foreign policy cabinet I have ever seen in my life. No one’s even close second at the moment. And that kind of commentary by Jake Sullivan is just unbelievable.
TN: Yeah. Okay, guys, so let me ask you kind of one final question, and you have to answer it with one of these two answers you can’t equivocate in between. Okay. The likelihood of China and the US in some sort of direct warfare engagement in the next, say, twelve months, is it closer to, say, 20% likelihood, or is it closer to 70% likelihood?
AM: 20% in my opinion.
TN: Oh, good. Okay, so do you think it’s greater than 20% or less than 20%?
AM: I’d say less than 20%. Okay. I would again say less than 20%,
CB: and I would say if you were to draw that out, 24, 36 months, I see it going up, probably steeper as time goes on.
TN: Okay, so that’s fair. So there’s a risk all around, right? We’ve got economic suffering globally. We’ve got inflation globally. We have whatever’s happening post-COVID trying to be figured out globally. We’ve got political uncertainty globally. So we’ve got risk and uncertainty everywhere. Adding a conflict to that mix would not be positive for anybody.
CB: And the one thing I would say is, even though I say less than 20%, that’s not like a firmly, deeply held conviction. Because if you’re talking about risk, I would have what I would call wide error bands in a lot of these situations. Look, we talk about, like, what is Xi going to do? Xi could say, hey, America is distracted by Ukraine. They got extra troops there. They’re shipping all kinds of weapons. Now’s the time to go to Taiwan. I don’t think people do that. That’s also not crazy to speculate. Yeah,
AM: I would have to agree with that because I never thought that Putin would try to take Kyiv with so few troops, but here we are, him making a vital mistake. And sometimes leaders make bad mistakes because they have a bunch of yes men around them. Yeah. Let me ask you one very quick question.
TN: Do you think there’s a possibility that China kind of takes it out on somebody else? Do they have a dust-up maybe with India to show strength at home while avoiding it with the US? Or something like that? Do they lash out to somebody else so that they can kind of flex muscles at home?
AM: Yeah, they could, but I mean, honestly, the Indians are not people to be trifled with, to be honest. They are itching to take on China if they show any kind of aggression. So I don’t see who they can pressure to say they’re big, bad China at the moment. I don’t even think they should be doing that. They should be figuring out their economic situation more than anything else.
TN: Xi Jinping’s role model is Mao. And Mao ultimately was a failure and a pariah in his own country by the time he died. Right. So I don’t think Xi has the sense to understand that Mao was a pariah by the time he died. And so that’s his role model who killed 60 million people through starvation and other things. So this is a problem. We have a guy in the office in China whose role model killed 60 million people directly.
AM: Yes, I understand that, Tony. The problem is the difference is that the CCP has wealthy families now that have almost equal footing as Xi in terms of power, and they can of them if they wanted to.
TN: Well, and that’s the reality, right? And that’s what nobody talks about. And that may be the backstop for a lot of this stuff.
CB: I’ll tell you this. The rumor mill among Chinese ex-pats, dissidents, et cetera, et cetera, are in hyperdrive this year. Look, it’s hard to know what to believe. It’s very hard to know what to believe. Okay? So I’m not about to push any theories, but there’s a lot of that discussion going around.
TN: Guys, this has been great. Thank you so much for doing this on such short notice. For anyone watching, please put comments below. We’ll take a look at them and we’ll watch them through the next week. If you have any additional thoughts, please let us know, and look forward to seeing how the next thanks a lot.