Monday, December 01, 2008


Throw The "D"(epression)

For unexplainable reasons, I find myself listening to a lot of late-80s/early-90s hip-hop -- of the Ice Cube/N.W.A. variety. Who knows, maybe it's because that was the last serious economic downturn (the '00 tech bubble and '01 dips don't count for a variety of reasons).

In any event, as the Dow Jones plunged another 679 points Monday (ending a five-day fakeout rally), it's looking like this recession is going to make the '90-'91 one look like a walk in the park.
- According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the United States economy has been in recession since Dec 2007. Why does that not surprise me? I can't believe we are paying seven prominent economists, who make up the NBER, to tell us something most of us already know and have felt as we watched our investments wither away in value.

- Mr. Bernanke, in a speech today, warned that the economy would "probably remain weak for a time," with particular problems ahead for exports and household spending. Another piece of insight that I am sure we all did not already know. He went on to make another blatantly obvious statement - "Judging the effectiveness of the Federal Reserve's liquidity programs is difficult". Here's my judgement - the bailout and rescue plans have NOT worked! By the time they take effect we may all be broke.

- More analysts have stopped calling a market bottom, instead changing their talk to how low the market can go. Is Dow 5000 in sight as I wrote a few weeks ago? Just last week a number of these overpaid analysts were saying that the market has bottomed. Also, you know when the CNBC "experts" start getting pessimistic about equities in a broad sense, then things are really bad.

- The manufacturing sector of the U.S. economy slumped at the fastest pace in 27 years in November. Further, manufacturing gauges in China, the euro zone and the U.K. each showed significant drops, with the Chinese and British gauges dropping to record lows. Clearly folks all over the world are not buying things, and so the companies that make things either are going to seek government assistance or go bust. Either way, it paints a dark scenario in terms of employment and economic growth for the year ahead.

- Crude oil futures plunged 8% to trade below $50 a barrel, amid economic concerns and as OPEC chose to postpone further production cuts. Normally this would be a good thing, but in an ironic twist, Oil has become a barometer for the future health of the economy. Falling oil prices are a signal that global demand and growth are contracting. Here's hoping to higher oil prices!

- The National Retail Federation estimated that shoppers spent 7.2% more than last year during Black Friday and Thanksgiving weekend shopping, but another poll found that 70% of consumers only purchased deeply-discounted merchandise. This means that while the sales volume's were higher, the profit margins of the retailers did not benefit. And a company that does not make money, cannot stay in business long. Unless you are a US automaker that is.

- Oppenheimer's leading and well known analyst Meredith Whitney said, "Credit Card companies will reduce lending by more than $2 trillion over the next 18 months in a dangerous and unprecedented move for U.S. consumer spending. There are signs of "broad-based declines" in consumer access to capital". So the primarily business credit crunch, will become a full blown consumer credit crunch. With consumer spending driving more than 60% of US GDP, this is a grim prognosis. While the longer term impacts of reducing our dependence on credit will be a good thing, short term it will be brutal to our already weakened economy.

While that "D" word is being tossed around, Peggy Noonan seconds my view that Obama might as well forget about his presidential honeymoon. More precisely, his "honeymoon" is now -- trying to balance a position of no power, except that is to calm the markets. That seemed to work for a few days as his economic team was being rolled out.

So much for that.

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