Goodbye, Gary Cohn: Alas, We Hardly Knew You

In this segment of the MarketFoolery podcast, host Chris Hill and Million Dollar Portfolio's Matt Argersinger consider the abrupt, if not totally shocking, departure of Donald Trump's chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, who resigned his post in the White House after it become clear that Trump could not be moved off of what he -- and apparently, most of Wall Street -- viewed as economically damaging tariffs on aluminum and steel.

The average American may have barely heard of Cohn before he quit -- but in finance circles, he was viewed a stabilizing voice in the White House. So the big money folks are a bit spooked. Should you be?

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on March 7, 2018.

Chris Hill: I suppose we should start with Steve Cohn, who's the chief economic advisor to the president of United States --

Matt Argersinger: And by Steve, I think you meant Gary Cohn.

Hill: Did I say Steve?

Argersinger: You did say Steve.

Hill: I meant Gary.

Argersinger: That's fine. There's a lot of Cohns out there.

Hill: This goes to your point from right before we started taping. You said, "Do you think the average person out there had ever heard of this guy before today?" And I said, no, but plenty of people on Wall Street know who he is. Successful career at Goldman Sachs, chief economic advisor to the president, and apparently he just couldn't take it anymore in terms of the tariffs on steel and aluminum that are coming. He's a free-trade guy, and he just thought, "You know what? I can't do this, and I'm walking away."

Argersinger: Yeah. I think, from the market perspective, Gary Cohn was someone who was a little bit of a stabilizing factor. The market hates uncertainty, and Gary Cohn being in the White House offered a little bit of more certainty, especially around financial, economic things that people care about, mostly on Wall Street, but elsewhere, too. Him leaving adds a little bit of instability, a little uncertainty.

Hill: Right. And at The Motley Fool, we are bottom-up investors. We focus on the businesses themselves. So, who is the president at any given time, who is the chief economic advisor at any given time, doesn't really have a direct effect on what decisions Mark Zuckerberg is making at Facebook, or Jeff Bezos at Amazon, any of these companies that we talk about all the time.

Yet, I do think, regardless of who the president is, one thing that has been common in my adult lifetime is, and you mentioned stability, and I think that's the right word, because whether it's the treasury secretary, the chief economic advisor, or who's going to chair the Federal Reserve, the one thing those three positions have in common is, they're almost always filled by people who project some level of stability to Wall Street. Again, everyday investors like us, it doesn't really matter. But to the institutional investors, it kind of does.

Argersinger: That's right. And, I think, as individual investors, this probably causes some short-term turbulence, angst. But long-term, the fortunes of the stock market, your fortunes as an investor, are much more determined on people, like you said, like Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg, not who's chairing the Economic Council or things like that at the White House.

Hill: Short-term angst. Also, depending on how you look at it and what your cash situation is, short-term opportunity.

Argersinger: Absolutely, always.

Hill: The news broke late yesterday, and I looked and I thought, oh, boy, Wednesday morning, the market is going to open, the Dow will drop 2%, that sort of thing. Right now, it's down about 0.6%. It's not that big. And yet, we do see these short-term effects. I think there's almost never been a better time for individual investors to have a watch list of stocks, and if you have the means, a little bit of cash on the sidelines.

Argersinger: So right. And we haven't had a lot of volatility in the market in the last 18 months until recently. So if you've been patient and you've been building up cash and adding to a watch list, it's probably a time you've been looking forward to

John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill owns shares of Amazon. Matthew Argersinger owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.