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recession


Observations: The QandO Podcast for 18 Apr 10

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael and Dale discuss the state of the economy, Tea Parties, and the Democtrats’ approach to politics. The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2009, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


The Economy: Most likely lower GDP growth, higher unemployment, flat spending in 1st quarter

Take all of the forecasts with a grain of salt given the “unexpectedness” of most economic numbers, but this gives a hint as to what to expect and it also explains why the last quarter’s GDP numbers were an illusion of growth, not the beginning of a growth trend:

The US economy continues on a bumpy road to recovery. Weaker data this week on consumer confidence, jobless claims, housing, and durable goods orders have introduced downside risks to our near-term economic outlook. We have made some minor adjustments to our GDP forecast. Fourth quarter GDP was revised up to 5.9%, with the inventory swing now accounting for 3.9 pp of growth, up from 3.4 pp. We think this “steals” some growth from 1Q. In addition, core capital goods orders and shipments were weaker than expected in January, so we are lowering our forecast for 1Q GDP to 1.5% from 2.0% previously.

1.5% growth isn’t a particularly auspicious number for those claiming we’ve “turned the corner” and are out of the recession and on a positive growth trend. It should be remembered that the last positive growth quarter before December was driven mostly by “cash for clunkers” or government spending. The 4th quarter of last year was driven by restocking inventories. Without it, the GDP is at 2%.  Unless there are consumption increases which will work to decrease those inventories, the growth for that quarter is an anomoly much like the GDP increase driven by cash for clunkers.

With consumer confidence down, housing and durable goods orders down and jobless numbers up, it doesn’t speak for an auspicious start to the year.

This next week will see some other numbers come in. If the forecasters are right (big if), then its going to be more bad news on the employment front:

The consensus is for a net loss of 50 to 80 thousand payroll jobs, and the unemployment rate to increase slightly to 9.8% (from 9.7%).

Today’s Personal Income and Outlays report (PCE) is mixed:

Personal income rose $11.4 billion, or 0.1%, less than the 0.4% expected, while personal consumption expenditures rose 0.5%, ahead of the 0.4% increase expected: So income’s rising slowly, but Americans are still spending more than expected.

The PCE index for the month posted a 0.2% increase, most of that because of energy and food; absent those items, the PCE index rose less than 0.1%, the report showed.

So the PCE index saw a slight increase above expectation but that was driven by necessities (food, energy) not the consumption of goods.

The ISM Manufacturing index released today also disappoints:

Activity in the manufacturing sector expanded for the seventh consecutive month in February, according to a report released by the Institute for Supply Management on Monday, although the pace of growth slowed by more than economists had been anticipating.

The ISM said its index of activity in the manufacturing sector fell to 56.5 in February from 58.4 in January, with a reading above 50 still indicating growth in the sector. Economists had been expecting the index to show a more modest decrease to a reading of 58.0.
Activity in the manufacturing sector expanded for the seventh consecutive month in February, according to a report released by the Institute for Supply Management on Monday, although the pace of growth slowed by more than economists had been anticipating.

The ISM said its index of activity in the manufacturing sector fell to 56.5 in February from 58.4 in January, with a reading above 50 still indicating growth in the sector. Economists had been expecting the index to show a more modest decrease to a reading of 58.0.

While snow is being blamed for some of the decline, but only in its depth, not the fact that there was a decline.

And the final Monday report is the Construction Spending Report for January was released:

Spending on U.S. construction projects fell at a seasonally adjusted rate of 0.6% in January, the third consecutive month of declines, the Commerce Department estimated Monday.

The decline in January was wider than the 0.5% drop that economists surveyed by MarketWatch had been expecting. December’s outlays fell an unrevised 1.2%.

In January, private residential outlays rose 1.3%, while private nonresidential outlays fell 2.1%. Public outlays also fell, off 0.7%.

During the rest of the week, you’ll see the following:

On Tuesday, the various manufacturers will release light vehicle sales for February. The consensus is for a decline to about 10.4 million on a Seasonally Adjusted Annual Rate (SAAR) basis from 10.8 million in January. Sales for Toyota will be closely watched. Also on Tuesday, the Personal Bankruptcy Filings estimate for February will be released.

On Wednesday, the ADP Employment report and ISM Non-Manufacturing index (consensus is for a slight increase to 51% from 50.5%), and the Fed’s beige book will all be released.

On Thursday, the closely watched initial weekly unemployment claims, productivity report, factory orders, and pending home sales will all be released.

And on Friday, the BLS employment report, Consumer Credit (more contraction), and another round of bank failures (I’m thinking Puerto Rico will make an appearance).

The good news, if there is any, is that inflation expectations haven’t really reared their ugly head to this point, meaning right now inflation is under a modicum of control and not rising appreciably. Of course that could literally change in a heartbeat, so other than to note it and be glad for the fact, I have no idea how long those expectations will remain dormant.

Bottom line – we’re bumping along the bottom and hopefully we’ll see a meaningful turnaround sometime this fall. But right now, anyone saying things are going well and we’re fully into recovery doesn’t realize how fragile the economy is right now and certainly doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

~McQ


Don’t Tell Anyone, But The Recession Is Still With Us

Despite all the happy talk from the administration and the lap-dog press eagerly parroting the “good news” that the recession is over, the numbers just don’t support the talking point.  Liam Halligan delivers the news:

So I was pleased last week when I heard that, after four successive quarters of contraction, America’s economy grew by an impressive 3.5pc between July and September, compared to the quarter before. “The US is out of recession” numerous newspaper headlines screamed. No wonder share prices surged.

As ever, the numbers warrant a closer look. For one thing, this is annualised data. So the US economy actually expanded by only 0.9pc during the third quarter – a fact most newspaper reports ignored. What growth we did see resulted from a 3.4pc annualised rise in US consumption between July and September, which was in turn caused by a 22.3pc spike in spending on consumer durables.

As mentioned here that “spike” was driven by “cash for clunkers” and the $8,000 first time homeowners tax exemption. Halligan agrees. It wasn’t a trend, it was exactly what Halligan reported – a spike. So digging into it, what are the real numbers?

In other words, this latest US growth spasm stemmed from one-off government “giveaways” – with the public only able to take advantage of such gimmicks by going deeper into debt. The rise in US consumption coincided with a 3.4pc fall in household disposable income and a plunging savings rate too. With government and household debt spiralling anew, America’s so-called “return to growth” is nothing but a return to higher leverage. [emphasis mine]

Not quite what the administration cracked it up to be, is it? And Halligan reminds us:

Over the last 40 years, all US slumps have been interrupted by at least one quarter of positive growth, followed by a renewed downturn.

Of course, with an administration desperate for any good news, ignoring history is to be expected. After all, they’re quite the masters at ignoring the laws of economics and expecting results which run counter to them, aren’t they? Why shouldn’t they believe that one quarter of government give-aways equals pulling out of the recession? Can’t wait to hear the excuses when we’re back in the negative GDP growth trend next quarter. And you can also expect to hear the inevitable cries for a second stimulus (Porkulus II) crescendo.

~McQ


For Informational Purposes Only

I am not an investment advisor.  I’m not a guru.  I’m not qualified to give you any investment advice at all.  I’m just looking around and seeing things, and telling you what I see.  And, in this case, I’ll even tell you what I’m doing.

I do so, however, with the strong warning that you should not, under any circumstances, use me for an example, or follow my example.  What I do may not be suitable for you at all.  I just want to make that clear.

First let me recap some data points I’ve made in several previous posts:

The Fed has more than doubled the monetary base over the past year. The amount of money that is just sitting there in the economy is incomprehensible.  But, it’s not making any trouble for us in inflationary terms, because it is just sitting there.  It’s what will happen when it does stop just sitting there that is worrisome.

The Federal Budget has spiraled out of control, with the TARP, stimulus, and recession bringing additional massive amounts of debt to bear, and future deficits signifigantly larger than any in recent memory–on top of which, there is now talk of “Stimulus II”.

Despite the happy talk about the economy’s recovery, the fact is that it is still in decline–just a slower rate of decline.  If a recovery doesn’t occur soon, we will run into another leg down in the economy, as households and businesses draw down their cash reserves, hit their credit limits, and slash their spending.  The longer the recession continues, the more people and business that will be forced into bankruptcies, the more foreclosures will rise, etc.  We call things like this “black swan” events.

On the other hand, even if there is a recovery, the Fed will be faced with the task of trying to wring the extra money back out of the economy.  If they are unsuccessful, inflation will rise.  If they are successful, they may spark another recession through tightening, much as they did to cause the second leg of the back-to-back recessions in 1981-1982. A second leg of a recession will undoubtedly result in greater debt and more money funneled into the economy as the government re-imposes monetary and fiscal stimulus again to re-inflate economic activity.  This will both deepen the debt and increase the money supply, making the next round of interest rate tightenings more difficult, unless the economy comes back strongly.

Social Security is now estimated to begin having a negative cash flow in 2019.  In other words, Social Security expenditures will exceed the payroll tax receipts.  We have, until now, been running surpluses in Social Security receipts, but, of course, the government spent that money in the general fund.  There is, therefore, no pot of money saved to make up for the deficit in receipts in 2016.  Benefits will be cut.  Taxes will be increased.  Economic growth will be affected.

I discount the Robert Fisk story that Bruce linked to earlier today as implausible.  As Fabius Maximus points out:

1. Some of these nations have no reason to risk destabilizing the USA.  Esp the Saudi Princes.

2. Some of these nations have no reason to risk destabilizing the global financial system. Esp.  Japan.

3. Many of these nation have leaders who are some combination of cautious, slow, reactive, and incrementalists.

4. Something of this scale would be almost impossible to keep secret 2 days after the first discussions.

5. If multiple Hong Kong banking sources knew it, their fingerprints would be all over the US dollar – as they shorted it to the max.

Having said that, while I believe this particular story is implausible,  it is obvious that a number of countries, China and Russia chief among them, are urging that the dollar be replaced as the world’s reserve currency, or, at the very least, allow some other currency or basket of currencies to be used in addition to the dollar.  If this happens, billions of dollars will be repatriated to the US, drastically lowering the dollar’s foriegn exchange value.  China is already denominating regional trade deals in yuan, and the use of gold has been on the rise as an instrument for international settlements in Asia and Europe.

There are many more data points, but it would be both tedious and depressing to continue.

The bottom line is that the trends outlined above will, in all probability, necessitate dealing with our foreign creditors.  Such dealings may require us to reschedule our debt payments, which will devastate the bond market, make future borrowing far more difficult, and end the notion that treasury notes are “risk-free” investments. If so, we will have become a financial banana republic in which future investment will be given the gimlet eye.  We may also be required to those foreign debts off in some currency or basket of currencies other than dollars, in order to prevent the government from inflating the debt away.

These trends will also probably require devaluing the US dollar by a substantial amount, so that our imports become expensive, while our exports become cheap.  This will allow us to earn the money to pay off our foreign debts, although it will, of course, result in a lower standard of living in the USA.

This the inevitable result of allowing the government–and the voters–to loot the system for 70 years.

So here is what I have done–and this is purely for informational purposes.  I do not recommend it for you, and I urge you to consider that I may be entirely wrong.

Several months ago, I completely pulled all of my investments out of equities, and into some select bond funds with a mix of government and private bonds.  As of today, I have ceased placing any more money in to either equities or bonds.

For the forseeable future, I will be buying gold bullion.  Not gold stocks.  Not Krugerrands.  Not gold depository accounts.  I mean direct bullion purchases of gold bars or rounds.  My personal preference is for APMEX or Pamp Suisse 10g bars, or Scotia Bank 1/4 oz. rounds, since they have the lowest premiums over the spot price, and are small enough to conveniently convert at local jewelry stores, pawn shops, or gold dealers at need.

Trying to convert a 1kg bar on short notice would be…inconvenient.  Even 1oz. Krugerrands might be hard to convert as the value of each single coin is now over $1000.

I have no interest in paying a premium for “collectible” coins.  I have no interest in purchasing a depository account, where my gold holdings have to be reported to the government. In fact, prior to this month, I had no real interest in gold either.  Indeed, if you bought gold at any time from 1979 to 2001, by march of 2001, you would have lost money–perhaps quite a lot of money, depending on when you bought it.   However, in the current circumstances, let’s just say that my interest is now…heightened substantially.

Whether your interest should be heightened…well, I couldn’t say.


The Kangaroo is Still Hopping

Today was one of those days when a couple of trends came together that should be making us think seiously about changing our current fiscal and monetary policies.

The first thing I was was this debt chart from John B Taylor that shows how our current policy will effect the national debt.

Projected national nebt as a percentage of GDP

Projected national nebt as a percentage of GDP

This what you call your unsustainable debt path.

Then, there was this:

Since the crisis began, the Fed has pumped more than $800 billon into the banking system, kept the federal funds rate near zero and purchased so many Treasurys and mortgage-backed debt that the amount of assets on its balance sheets has now swollen to $2.14 trillion.

“If you think the Federal Reserve had it tough devising a strategy to rescue the U.S. economy from of the worst recession in 70 years, just wait,” wrote Bernard Baumohl, chief global economist, at the Economic Outlook Group. “We think it is going to be hellishly more complicated this time to come up with a plan that encourages growth and keeps inflation expectations well anchored.”

All of which leads directly to this:

Chinese central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan, who supervises more than two trillion dollars worth of dollar reserves, the world’s largest, raised the stakes by calling for a new reserve currency in place of the dollar.

He wanted the new reserve unit to be based on the SDR, a “special drawing right” created by the International Monetary Fund, drawing immediate support from Russia, Brazil and several other nations.

“These countries realize that they would suffer losses if inflation eroded the value of the dollar securities they own,” said Richard Cooper, a professor of international economics at Harvard University.

Here’s the problem.  Because we are on an unsustainable debt path, we will eventually accrue more debt than we can possibly repay.  There are many people who think that–since our debt, coupled with Social Security and Medicare obligations currently outstanding, are greater than the entire capital stock of the United States–we’re there already.  We ill be unable to pay the debt, so our choices are to repudiate it outright, or to destroy the value of the currency and inflate it away, both of which amount to essentially the same thing.  In doing so, the government will destroy the life savings of everyone in the country, save those that are in hard assets

The Chinese, whatever else they may be, are not stupid.  they know this, and they want a new worldwide reserve currency now, before everyone realizes that the dollar is in very serious danger of becoming worthless.  They don’t want to be stuck holding dollars when that happens–although their holdings in bonds will probably have to be written off.

I’ve written previously that China moved their gold reserves into the BoC a few months ago.  Some international trade deals are already being denominated in gold, tool.  It looks very much like the dollar’s days as the world reserve currency are numbered.  In fact, the dollar’s days may very well be numbered.

Federal Reserve Monetary Base. Click to enlarge.

Federal Reserve Monetary Base. Click to enlarge.

And we’ve let it happen.  Over the past 80 years, we’ve sat by and watched as the Fed–whose primary mission was supposed to be the stability fo the currency–has presided over a tenfold reduction in the dollar’s value.  For the last 30 years, we’ve watched as the debt has mushroomed–yes, even during Bill Clinton’s presidency–and we’ve refused to either cut spending or to raise taxes to a level commensurate with our increased spending.  In short, we’ve looted the system, and the looting is nearly complete now.

And now, with all the trumpetings of a coming economic recovery, the Fed has to try and figure out how to re-call the more than doubling of the monetary base we’ve engaged in in the past year without completely crashing the economy.  Failure to do so, of course, means serious inflation–which will further degrade the value of the dollar.

Hop.  Hop.  Hop.


Podcast For 16 Aug 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Lance, and Dale discuss the furor over the Health Care bill, and the sate of the economy.

There is no direct link to this week’s podcast, since my computer went TU right in the middle of it.  You’ll have to listen at BlogTalk radio.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Recession Over? Not Yet Says NBER

Some indicators are looking better, but others, not as good:

While the U.S. economy is showing signs of stabilizing from a recession that started in December 2007, it’s “way too early” to say the contraction is over, said the head of the group that officially makes the call.

Gross domestic product estimated on a monthly basis “had a trough earlier this year, but it is way too early to say that it is a true trough rather than a pause in a longer decline,” said Robert Hall, who heads the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Business Cycle Dating Committee.

So while you continue to hear the happy talk about economic recovery, the experts aren’t yet ready to say whether we’ve bottomed out or are just taking a breather in the midst of a longer decline.

~McQ


Podcast for 31 May 09

In this podcast, Bruce, Michael, Billy, and Dale discuss the economy and the Sotomayor nomination.

The direct link to the podcast can be found here.

Observations

The intro and outro music is Vena Cava by 50 Foot Wave, and is available for free download here.

As a reminder, if you are an iTunes user, don’t forget to subscribe to the QandO podcast, Observations, through iTunes. For those of you who don’t have iTunes, you can subscribe at Podcast Alley. And, of course, for you newsreader subscriber types, our podcast RSS Feed is here. For podcasts from 2005 to 2007, they can be accessed through the RSS Archive Feed.


Predicted vs. Actual

Here’s an interesting little chart I found at Innocent Bystanders.  The light blue line is the Obama administration’s prediction of how terrible unemployment would be if we didn’t pass the stimulus plan.  The dark blue line is the prediction of how much better things would be we did pass it.  The dark red triangles show the actual unemployment statistics.

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

The Amazing Effectiveness of Stimulus

So, how’s that recovery plan working out for us?  Not so good, apparently.

I merely provide the chart for informational purposes.  I know it’s useless to make any criticisms of the actual performance of the plan, just as it was useless to predict that this is pretty much what would happen.

Besides, saying, “I told you so”, is so churlish and mean.


Silver Lining?

The big Econo-boys are weighing in on the state of the economy, and providing a consensus opinion on the coming economic recovery.  According to the Wall Street Journal:

Economists in the latest Wall Street Journal forecasting survey expect the recession to end in September, though most say it won’t be until the second half of 2010 that the economy recovers enough to bring down unemployment.

Gross domestic product was predicted to contract in the first and second quarters of this year by 5.0% and 1.8%, respectively, on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate. A return to growth — a modest 0.4% — isn’t expected until the third quarter. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the most recent period for which data are available, the economy contracted 6.3%.

The outlook for employment isn’t quite as good, though.

Just 12% of the economists expect the unemployment rate to fall some time this year. More than a third of respondents expect the jobless rate to peak in the first half of 2010, while about half don’t see unemployment declining until the second half of 2010. By December of this year, the economists on average expect the unemployment rate to reach 9.5%, up from the 8.5% reported for March. They do see the rate of decline slowing, forecasting 2.6 million job losses in the next 12 months, compared with the 4.8 million jobs lost in the previous period.

I’m a bit more negative on the above.  As of today, weekly initial unemployment claims are still at 650,000 per week.  If that keeps up, we’ll continue to see 0.5% increases in unemployment on a monthly basis.  We might be at 9% by next month, nevermind December.

I’m also concerned about the implications of the rabid expansion of the monetary base over the last 7 months, during which it essentially doubled.  If that  impacts signifigantly on inflation by the end of the year, then we’ll be between a rock and a hard place with a weak economy, and signifigant inflation.  Any Fed moves to contract the monetary base will crater the economy, in much the same way that Paul Volcker’s Fed did in causing the back to back recession of 1981-1982.

There are still treacherous shoals to navigate for the economy before I begin to get bullish on economic growth again.

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