‘Daily Show’ Gets Serious About Finance

'Daily Show' correspondent and Inside ETFs keynote speaker Roy Wood Jr. shares his thoughts on bitcoin, marijuana investing and more.

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Reviewed by: Lara Crigger
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Edited by: Lara Crigger

Roy Wood Jr.Roy Wood Jr. is a correspondent on Comedy Central's “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah.” A native of Birmingham, Alabama, Wood began his comedy career in 1999 while attending Florida A&M University. He made his television debut in 2006, with appearances on “Def Comedy Jam,” “The Late Show With David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” and “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.” His first one-hour standup special, "Father Figure," debuted in 2017.

Along with fellow Daily Show correspondent Michael Kosta, Roy Wood Jr. will be hosting the luncheon keynote session on Monday, January 22 at the upcoming Inside ETFs 2018 in Hollywood, Florida.

ETF.com: No offense, but I don't usually think of “The Daily Show” as my source for finance news. What brings you to Inside ETFs?

Roy Wood Jr.: Finance has always been interesting to me. I've always found it fascinating how numbers are the epicenter of so many other real-world issues, if you just pay attention and dig.

At “The Daily Show,” the writers and researchers dig and dig and dig. That's where you find the story. The trick after that is to find the punchline.

ETF.com: I can't wait to see what you have planned for the conference. Can you give us some spoilers?

Wood: Well, I'm coming so that I can get some advice on cryptocurrency. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Shoecoin … there are so many of them now. I don't even know when people are lying to me. A guy could come up to me and say, "Hey man, did you hear? Rat Poison Coin is up 12%!" And I'd be, like, "I gotta get some of that RatCoin."

ETF.com: Have you bought into bitcoin, or some other cryptocurrency yet?

Wood: I want to get involved in bitcoin, but everybody I ask says now's not the time. But the whole bitcoin thing feels like a secret vendors-only club that they just don't want you to be a part of. It's like when you're a teenager, you see your older brother with a beer, and he's having a great time. And you say, "I want some beer!" and he says, "No, you're not ready." I don't know if my big brother's telling me right, or if he's an effing liar and just wants to keep it all for himself.

ETF.com: Of course, beer has an underlying value: It's tasty. Do you believe cryptocurrency has underlying value?

Wood: I think we now live in a day and age where you can't blow off anything. Ask Blockbuster how that worked out for them, blowing off a new idea. "What, mailing DVDs to your house? That's stupid!"

ETF.com: Aren't you worried about getting burned, though?

Wood: Nah, my biggest fear is that cryptocurrency will become the craft beer of finance: too many options and too many people, and most of them are going to suck. Never have I been more pro-monopoly than with cryptocurrency. We just need to get this down to a couple of players, you know?

ETF.com: One to be the biggest, one to be second biggest and a third to keep them both honest.

Wood: Yeah. But I definitely think cryptocurrency won't stay as unregulated as it is now. There’ll be more structured versions, offered by more organized parties. It's like, oh, it's cool that it's all "on the blockchain" and that you can't trace it, until somebody takes your $100,000. Then you'll be back to mutual funds real fast.

It's just going to take that first real hacking, that first real snafu. As a business, cryptocurrency hasn't been around long enough to have its first crisis.

ETF.com: But cryptocurrency has been hacked, multiple times. In at least one case, someone made the wrong keystroke and $300 million in cryptocurrency vanished overnight. Yet bitcoin and the like seem to shrug off any crisis that comes their way.

Wood: Exactly! And so many people profiting on bitcoin now are people who were involved in it five years ago. These are people who were, to some degree, playing with house money. But now bitcoin has become this new digital gold rush. You have people putting in their life savings, selling their homes and cars. When those people lose everything, it's going to be different. I don't think you can get those people to buy in twice.

Don't get me wrong: You can't FDIC a bitcoin. But they'll come up with something, I don't know, the bitcoin-equivalent of store credit.

ETF.com: Do you think more regulation over cryptocurrency would be good for investors?

Wood: Regulation is bad for anything that's run by the people. At the end of the day, regulation limits exposure, but it also limits potential gains.

It's probably not the fairest comparison, but, marijuana is something that was run by the people. To get weed, you just knew a guy who knew a guy, and so on. Were the prices that you paid versus the quality equivalent? I don't know, I don't smoke weed. But I do know that, for a lot of people, the weed now is way better: It's higher potency, there are different varieties. But it's also pricy as hell.

So back to bitcoin: Does regulation makes it better or worse? I think there’ll be a yin and yang. Ultimately, though, I think banks will make most of the money, because in a regulated structure, they take on more risk than you, the individual account holder. So if banks back bitcoin or RatCoin or whatever, then, for the customer, there's less profit margin, but also much less risk.

 

ETF.com: I'm glad you brought up marijuana, because there are now funds you can invest in that track marijuana-related companies. Have you looked into them?

Wood: No! I didn't even know that was going on!

But I feel that marijuana, as an investment option, is having a turbulent takeoff because of social resistance. It's like flying on a cloudy day. You're going to hit some turbulence, but once you get up to cruising altitude, you're going to be just fine.

Especially once other states see what's being reeled in; Colorado made $247 million in tax revenue in 2017. So why not invest in it? States aren’t going to want to miss out on this. It's just a matter of which states are going to go in willingly, and which states are going to be dragged kicking and screaming by their constituents.

ETF.com: On “The Daily Show,” you use the guise of comedy to ask hard questions and get real answers. Why is that particularly important when it comes to Wall Street?

Wood: You can't play around with numbers, man. Markets move half a point, and things change overnight for companies, and their decisions affect millions of people, not just domestically but globally.

You have to ask serious questions when it comes to finance, because these things affect more people than you can know. When you talk something like the legalization of marijuana, well, you're sort of insulated if you don't smoke weed. There's not as much totality; it doesn't affect everybody. But money? Finance? That affects everything. It's connected to everything.

ETF.com: Do you have any big market predictions for 2018? Any big investments besides bitcoin and marijuana that you have your eye on?

Wood: I'm always looking at tech. Tech is interesting because it's so fluid. You can't just leave it on the stove, simmering and check on it periodically. You gotta be there stirring it, watching it, making sure it isn't scorching. One company that I think has always figured out a way to survive is Nintendo.

ETF.com: Right? Every five years it’s supposedly dead, then it comes out with Wii or the Switch or whatever, then bam, it’s back on top.

Wood: Nintendo is the New England Patriots of tech. Every year, you're like, "How did they do it again?" They had the NES [Classic], then the Super Mario Run app, now the Switch. They're a company that, as soon as you count them out, they come out of the corner swinging like [Mike] Tyson. I think you could leave [Nintendo] simmering on the stove, because you know that, every year, they're going to do better than the year before.

ETF.com: Any opinion on Amazon? Everybody has an opinion on Amazon these days.

Wood: Amazon could very well be the last man standing, but if Amazon continues to grow … well, the actual physical retail experience is dying, but I think we're living in a society that's very retro. In five or 10 years, there could be a rebirth of the shopping mall. Hell, “Roseanne” and “Will & Grace” are back on the air. Americans, we love to miss our old days, whatever the old days were.

So I think there's something to the retail experience that will always be there, something that Amazon will never be able to offer. But their competitors have to figure out how to change that experience to continue to get people into the brick-and-mortars.

ETF.com: Maybe all the shopping malls need to start taking bitcoin.

Wood: Nah. They should take RatCoin!

Contact Lara Crigger at [email protected]

Lara Crigger is a former staff writer for etf.com and ETF Report.