As the economy drifts listlessly going into this holiday season, thoughts of sugar-plumbed call options and zombie companies (Fannie Mae (FNM), Freddie Mac (FRE), and Citibank (C)) are dancing in the heads of day traders, fund managers and CNBC.
Hooray, hooray, everything is OK! Well, not quite. While Wall Street is feasting on the greatest secular bear market bounce in history, Main Street is experiencing persistent and formidable economic famine, the likes of which, have not been seen the Great Depression – which recorded the second greatest secular bear market bounce in history.
10. Look at the macroeconomic data.
Tuesday’s retail sales number, up 1.37 %; excluding autos, were up .2%. The year-over-year number was -1.74%! The world ended September 15, 2008, with the demise of Lehman. Financially, October 2008 was the dark side of the moon, yet, October 2009 still lags? The GPD is in a funk.
9. Look at the market’s technical data
On CNBC’s Fast Money last week, a dazed and beaten Louise Yamada pointed out there are “green shoots” of stock distribution appearing in the market; rising volume on falling days and falling volume on rally days. Additionally, the market’s chart pattern still roughly traces 1932-1941 period. We are near the 1938 bounce during the Great Depression. Money was and can be made in a depression.
8. Look at the market’s fundamentals
On November 6, the Wall Street Journal reported that, with 88% of companies reporting earnings, year-over-year was down 15%. However, earnings estimates by analysts were beaten by 80% of the reporting stocks. Sales are down but layoffs and cost cutting are allowing the market to believe in this Immaculate Conception rally. At some point, currency exchange manipulation by international corporations and lower wages, or fewer workers employed, invariably leads to the destination of painful contraction and negative growth.
Consumers are toast and retailers are beginning to blink for the holidays. The housing index is rolling over; flat in November at 17, revised downward in October from 18 and September recorded its high of 19 since falling down into single digits. Wednesday morning, housing starts showed a drop of 10.6%, on a seasonally adjusted annual rate, to 529,000 units. In 2006, housing starts were closer to 2,000,000 units. Unemployment is 10.2% ( for U-3; for U-6, the unemployment figure is 17.5%), the housing ATM machine is gone, wages are weak (except on Wall Street) and the market rally has helped institutions more than retail. Credit card lines of credit are truncating, loans are for those who don’t need them and many consumers are too gun-shy to use credit if they could.
6. Municipal Governments
John Maudlin latest piece did a brilliant job dissecting the bleak future of state income shortfalls. A jobless recovery with missing sales taxes will create at minimum 10 more California fiscal basket cases in 2010. The first round of stimulus money actually bailed out states – that’s why new job creation was so muted. Municipal defaults will emerge next year to terrorize investors.
5. Federal Government
Washington doesn’t have the stomach to break up banks that are too big to fail and to seriously reregulate the financial industry. The reverse merger of Washington DC by Wall Street in 2008 makes this so. Much of the financial products that the feds have guaranteed, to the tune of $24 trillion, are so complex that they are only understood by their creators - the borrowers. This ensures that we can sweep our current problems under the rug today to inflict more pain tomorrow. Even if we do not bring back mark-to-market anytime soon, at some point the battered dollar will force interest rates to rise and drive the economy down. Also, certain people in high places need to be replaced. Sadly, they will keep their jobs.
4. The global economy
Countries are diversifying away from the dollar and into gold and other hard assets. So should we (SGOL, SIVR, GDX, GDXJ, IAU, and GLD). They recognize that our fiscal and monetary policies are out of whack and no one in the US, either businessmen or politicians, is putting country before profits or reelection. This is the mindset that formed the greatest generation. South America, circa 1980s, here we come. Also, many countries are recovering faster than the US because their actions in the crisis aimed at repairing their economies, not individual companies.
3. Baby Boomers and retirement
Baby boomers who’ve lost jobs in this period realize their chances of finding one last job before retirement, at their last income level, are extremely low. The “severance package” class of unemployed, and the employed but leery worker, will not return to their previous spending habits. Years ago, they were told to save long-term in the stock market through index funds and to dollar-cost average, to buy more real estate than you could afford because both stocks and real estate rise over time, to fund their retirement accounts and buy company stock, to trust municipal bonds, and they would be alright. Unfortunately, as they near retirement, too few baby boomers are alright.
2. Income and wages
Either global competition, or inevitable draconian changes in fiscal policy to address our growing federal debt, or both, will reduce US wages for many years to come. To increase productivity, wages have been flat for the past 10 years. It was masked by the irrational stock and real estate markets. Without America discovering the “next new thing” our previous standard of living will accelerate downward. State and federal governments will desperately tax income sooner rather than later. These factors enhance the chances of the next leg of our depression.
1. The 21st Century
Every champion, eventually, must retire from the ring. The US is no different. And that is the primary reason most professionals have gotten some portion of the last three years wrong. Any data set from the 20th century is obsolete without significant adjustments. Linear extrapolation of historical patterns of growth, revenue, and consumption, without correctly modifying credit, demand and demographics, plus the impact of technology, domestic tariffs and regulations, and Realpolitik, is like placing a compass inside a magnetic field. Good luck.
No one can take away the fact that America owned the 20th century. However, in the 21st century, cheap land, cheap labor and a younger demographic profile, suggests that in 20 years, the reins of power will be in the adolescent hands of a rapidly growing Asia. So, we invest in their currency (CYB, ICN, and BZF), finance their growth (DRF), and sell them the raw materials (DBN) that they will need to build tomorrow.
For now, besides military weaponry, our number one export is entertainment (DIS).