Buy Lohan, Sell High
Why is Lindsay Lohan tweeting about the Federal Reserve's monetary policy?
Lindsay Lohan is not generally known for her views on economic policy. But something came over her on Monday night. "Have you guys seen food and gas prices lately?" she tweeted. "U.S. $ will soon be worthless if the Fed keeps printing money!" For context, a link directed Lohan's followers to the site of the National Inflation Association, a group dedicated to "preparing Americans for hyperinflation."
It is, needless to say, an unconventional position on monetary policy for a Hollywood starlet—or anyone else. Yes, food and gas prices are up, but core inflation has been consistently under the Federal Reserve's target, despite trillions of dollars of quantitative and qualitative easing and record-low interest rates. But it was a view she was paid to tweet. (A little #ad hash tag tipped readers off, and the organization confirms it paid her.) The National Inflation Association was looking for some good-old, low-brow, high-buzz publicity for its campaign against current monetary policy. And maybe a few people who clicked over from Lohan's tweet would also look into a few of the penny stocks it was hawking, too.
The National Inflation Association sounds like a think tank. Its website has articles and charts. It seems like it could be an affiliate of Brookings or AEI or the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. It is not. "Our goal is to help as many Americans as possible become aware of the disaster we are rapidly approaching. In our opinion, the wealth of most Americans could get wiped out during the next decade," its mission statement reads. "[B]ut it will be an opportunity for a small percentage of Americans to become wealthy by investing into companies that historically have prospered in an inflationary environment."
The National Inflation Association is a limited liability company, a private, for-profit business. It is the brainchild of professional stock hawkers, one of whom happens to be the youngest-ever person charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is devoted to educating Americans about our perilous monetary policy. But it is also devoted to recommending investments—including penny stocks—supposedly able to hold value in the supposedly imminent hyperinflationary period.
Its president is Gerard Adams, a young libertarian and the head of Wall Street Grand, "the Number One investor relations and investor awareness consulting company today." What is "awareness consulting," you ask? Merely advertising. Publicly traded companies, generally ones with penny stocks, pay Wall Street Grand fees to promote them in videos, on its site, and in newsletters. The company also runs a "penny stock investor membership club" and offers up stocks as "investment opportunities" on its site.
Adams helped start the NIA as a purely educational enterprise, he says, even if it is not a nonprofit. "The website is completely free. It is to educate people, and to talk about things the mainstream media doesn't want to cover," he says in a rushed interview between conference calls. Adams pays for it out of his own pocket to the tune of millions, he says, while also asking for donations from newsletter subscribers. (In exchange, they get special reports.) The company employs economists, writers, aggregators, and video producers, he says. He declines to say how many people are on staff.
The purpose of NIA—and the purpose of the Lohan tweet—is merely to raise awareness about the dangers of inflation among young people. "We know that she has an influence," Adams says. "She's trying to change her life. She went through her own issues, house arrest. But we thought she had an influence among the youth," says Adams, who at 26 is only a year older than she is. "We're trying to go after the youth. And she has stated that she cares about oil and gas prices rising in the past."
To raise that awareness, the NIA runs a site with commentaries and aggregated news clips. It also blasts them out in free newsletter. But there's something else in the newsletter too: stock tips—recommendations for large- and small-cap companies to invest in, many related to gold, silver, and other commodities.
Annie Lowrey, formerly Slate’s Moneybox columnist, is economic policy reporter for the New York Times.
Photo by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.