The Dow was up 120 points yesterday. Now, we're beating the bounce of 1930. The post-crash bounce in 1930 lasted fifth months. Ours began on March 9th...so it is now in its sixth month.
And like 1930, people are coming to believe that recession is almost over...and happy times are here again.
Heck, we're sure the trouble is behind us now; 53 economists said so!
According to Bloomberg:
"The economy will expand 2 percent or more in four straight quarters through June, the first such streak in more than four years, according to the median of 53 forecasts in the monthly Bloomberg News survey. Analysts lifted their estimate for the third quarter by 1.2 percentage points compared with July, the biggest such boost in surveys dating from May 2003.
"'We've averted the worst, and there are clear signs the stimulus is working,' said Kenneth Goldstein, an economist at the Conference Board in New York.
"'Cash-for-clunkers was the icing on the cake,' said David Greenlaw, chief fixed-income economist at Morgan Stanley in New York. 'It's well- timed stimulus syncing with cyclical forces leading to a ramping up of production.'"
Yes, now the economy is firing on all cylinders...or just about. Yep. No doubt about it. Still, there are some nagging doubts. The latest figures show foreclosures still increasing - up 7% in July from a year before. And house prices are still going down. And unemployment is still going up. And consumer prices are falling...indicating a Japan- like deflation. And business profits are falling. And consumers are cutting back. But except for that - housing, jobs, sales, profits and deflation - everything is working out beautifully.
Now that we mention it, all the indicators of real economic activity are down.
So, the feds aren't taking any chances. Yesterday came news that the Fed would continue buying bonds at least through October. And they are not likely to raise rates either. The banks can borrow at practically zero interest...and use the money to buy Treasury bonds. The 10-year yields about 3.7%. In effect, they're lending the money back to the people they got it from...and earning 3.7% for their trouble.
But, take away the stimulus spending...and the stimulating low interest rates...and what have you got? You've got is an economy entering a depression.
Oh, there's the rub, isn't it? If the feds hand out money so people can buy automobiles, people buy automobiles. If they don't give out the money, people don't buy automobiles. If they buy automobiles, of course, it looks like the economy is recovering. But take away the giveaways, and the recovery disappears.
Solution: keep giving away money!
Hold on...something wrong here. If you could generate economic prosperity by giving people money so they could buy things...why not give them money to buy everything? Why just autos? Why not give them money to buy financial advisory services? Ah...now we're talking!
But let's keep this serious...well, as serious as we can be when we talk about programs designed by knuckleheads.
So, the feds are encouraging people to buy autos. Set aside the fact that buying too many autos and other things is what got them into trouble...
..if giving people money so they could buy things actually made people prosperous, welfare recipients would be the richest people on the planet. Obviously, it doesn't work that way. What makes people rich is the ability to earn money...not their ability to get handouts. And remember, too, the feds don't really have any money to hand out. They can only get money by taking it from its rightful owners - either in taxation or loans. Or, they can print it up themselves. In any case, the money adds nothing real or extra to the economy. It merely distorts the economy...twists it...misleads it...and makes it a bigger mess than it was already.
[Don't let yourself get dragged down by these government shenanigans...set up your own 'personal bailout' by clicking here.]
More news from The 5 Min. Forecast:
"Even cash for clunkers couldn't save American retail sales in July," writes Ian Mathias in today's 5 Minute Forecast. "The Commerce Department's July retail sales number shocked the Street this morning, down 0.1% despite expectations of a 0.8% rise.And back to Bill, with more thoughts:
"The government's CARS program did help - without auto sales the retail gauge would have fallen 0.6%. But the lowly consumer has made his point: Even with free money deals from Uncle Sam, retail is not ready to 'get back on track,' as the Obama administration likes to say. In fact, even if the Street's wish came true, we'd still be a long way from the old status quo.
"In a similar vein, Wal-Mart's latest sales numbers missed expectations this morning. While still profitable, the world's biggest retailer saw same-store sales fall 1.2% in the second quarter - well below the Street's forecast of a 1% rise.
"Interestingly, Wal-Mart enjoyed 13 straight months of better same- store sales from April 2008-Apirl 2009. Then suddenly, they stopped reporting monthly sales and switched to quarterly. Now, in their first quarterly report, sales are down. Hmm...must be a coincidence."
Wanna make sure you get The 5 in its entirety delivered straight to your inbox every day? You can - The 5 is a free service, exclusive to subscribers of Agora Financial's paid services, such as Dan Amoss' Strategic Short Report. And on Monday, August 24th, at noon, Dan will expose the biggest banking lie of the past 64 years...and you could stand to triple your money. See his latest report for all the details.
We are enjoying our month in the country. Not exactly a vacation...but close. We work in the office from 8AM until lunchtime at about 2PM. Then, we turn our attention to other things. In the summer, that means painting. We're repainting the billiard room, because Elizabeth decided that the curtains needed to be changed. And then, we're repainting a farmhouse, top to bottom, before renting it out.
Painting is a fairly relaxing occupation. You can do it while thinking about other things. Rolling the walls or cutting in the corners, some men might think of going hunting...or playing golf. We try to figure out what is going on in the world economy. For these are remarkable times we live in. We see what is happening...pretty much what we expected. But we're not sure where it leads.
Readers may have noticed a shift in our thinking recently. Well, you can blame latex. As we were painting in the billiard room we began to see that governments are more incompetent than even we had realized. They can't create inflation on demand. A few months ago, we were preparing for inflation...even hyperinflation. Now...we're not so sure. The depression and the Chinese vigilantes may hold off inflation...even for years.
Does this mean you should sell your gold? Well...we wouldn't go that far. Even in the Great Depression gold and gold mining stocks rose in price. And the one and only sure thing is that the world monetary system is dangerously unstable. We'd hold gold until it settles down. Just don't count on getting rich from it in the short-term.
[Precious metals have been the ultimate store of wealth for centuries. People hold them as a hedge in times of uncertainty...and if these aren't uncertain times, we don't know what is. Get your share of these metals now.]
Here's another reason housing prices are going down: housing priorities are changing. Baby Boomers are entering a phase in their lives when people typically escape from urban/suburban centers in favor of small towns and rural areas. If this pattern continues, it will mean a big shift of population, say the experts.
Remember, it's what you do, who you do it with, and where you do it that counts. By the time a person reaches middle age, the first question is usually settled...the second is often in doubt...and the third is actively being considered. That is, few people begin a new career after the age of 50...but it seems like more and more decide they might want to try life with a new partner.
"I can't imagine it," said Elizabeth. "It just seems like too big an adjustment. It took me a quarter century to get used to you. I don't know if I could get used to someone else...
"On the other hand, it might be fun to try..."
Well, for whatever reason, it seems like people are changing partners - even at a rather advanced stage in life. And as for the where to live - it's a question on practically every Baby Boomer's mind.
"I just got tired of living in the city," said a man who spent his entire career in Paris. "Just too much hassle. I'd rather visit occasionally than live there."
Our friend has moved to the country not far from here. He has set up a small woodworking shop in a garage and happily spends his time making chairs and tables. When his house is full of them, he'll probably have to give them to friends and relatives.
"It's much nicer living out here than in the city," says another friend. "And much cheaper. You can buy a whole house for half the cost of an apartment in town...and then you don't have to pay for parking...you can raise chickens and vegetables...and you can even heat with wood, if you want. You don't really have to spend much money at all.
"And the quality of life is higher. Small towns are more friendly. They're prettier...usually. They're easier. So they're perfect for people who are retired.
"And here in France, there's another phenomenon. When people retire, they want to go back to where they came from. Usually, they have a house they inherited from parents or grandparents. So, they leave the apartment in Paris to their children, who are just building their careers. And they retire to the country. It's not a bad way to live."
by Nate Lewis
Binghamton, New York
It seems that we are in a period of economic decline. This might get a little tiresome eventually (it takes people longer to get fed up than you might think), and then maybe a few will start looking for solutions.
If I could send a fortune cookie to those future leaders - five, ten, or twenty years from now - it would contain the Magic Formula of economic success. Here it is:
If you look at any of the great economic successes over the past two hundred years, you will usually find this combination. Likewise, most of the great failures have the converse: high (or rising) taxes, and unstable money.
Today, a rather energetic discussion of economic policy is taking place, but you will notice that almost nobody suggests anything that is in line with the Magic Formula. On the contrary, the trend is toward the opposite. Economic weakness begets heavy spending; heavy spending begets large deficits; large deficits beget a political trend toward higher taxes. They will eventually find out that higher taxes beget economic weakness.
President Obama has already outlined his preferences for a reversal of the Bush tax cuts, plus still higher taxes on upper-income earners, plus a removal of the upper-income cap on payroll taxes, plus additional increases in capital gains taxes. But this is just the beginning; there is serious talk of introducing a national VAT in the US.
What about the stable money part of the equation? The most stable money, historically, has always been produced by a gold standard. That is the gold standard's purpose. However, beginning especially in the 1930s, a new ideology arose. We no longer wanted stable money. We wanted money we could manipulate, so we could fool people into doing things they would not otherwise do. Alas, this sort of thing has consequences, and they are usually not too pleasant. The US dollar has already fallen to 1/50th of its original value due to our belief in monetary manipulation. The next 50-fold decline might take place in a much shorter period.
Thus, we have higher taxes and, I expect, increasingly unstable money. On top of a dozen other things you could name. Do you see what I mean about an era of economic decline?
I know that many learned economists will say: "Yes, that is interesting, but we can't afford a major tax cut at this time. Plus, we need all the help we can get from monetary policy." This is what people always say in the early period of an era of economic decline.
The fact of the matter is that you can always reduce taxes. Some of the most brilliant tax cut strategies have come from governments in the direst situations imaginable.
Russia was a disaster zone when Vladmir Putin introduced a 13% flat income tax in 2000. Over the next seven years, the average worker's salary (in US dollars) increased by an astonishing 30% per annum.
Germany was in even worse shape in 1949. In the years after the war, hyperinflation raged and millions died of starvation. Much the same was happening in Japan. Both enacted huge tax cuts in the early 1950s. Japan even went so far as to require a balanced budget by law. Both introduced gold-linked currencies at the same time.
This is the kind of thing that happens in the early stages of an era of economic success. The results were very much in line with Russia or China over the past few years. You'll notice that Russia and China today have little interest in monetary manipulation, but are teaming up to establish an international currency regime that promises more stability than the mismanaged US dollar. Russian president Dmitry Medvedev even presented a 1/2 oz. gold bullion coin at the most recent G-8 meeting, as an example of the international currency of the future.
Why did Germany and Japan go this route? They did it because they finally got fed up. Once they got fed up enough, they started to look for answers. The answer was the Magic Formula, although they didn't call it that in those days.
Politicians today, especially in the US, are nowhere near that point. They still think they can spend and tax and devalue their way... not to prosperity exactly... but to a continuation of the status quo. The status quo in which they are somewhere near the top.
Maybe one of them is reading this essay right now. If they hadn't heard of the Magic Formula before, they know about it now. And what are they thinking?
"Hmmmm, some kind of libertarian crank by the looks of it."
It's just too early in the process. Louis XIV's finance minister Vauban wanted to replace the hideously corrupt and oppressive French tax system with a simple 10% income tax. Louis fired him.
Maybe Louis XIV himself was corrupt and oppressive. Plus, he was already the Sun King. Why fix what ain't broken? Taxes got higher and higher, until finally the French "voted" for lower taxes by exterminating the aristocrats altogether.
The French example is from a wonderful book by Charles Adams, called For Good and Evil: the Impact of Taxes on the Course of Civilization. Adams also offers an example from ancient Egypt:
"Scholars have tried to determine what went wrong in Egypt under the Ptolemies, when an empire that had survived for over three thousand years simply withered and died... Egypt had suffered no military disasters, famines or plagues..."
The most impressive analysis of Egypt's demise came from the great Russian scholar Rostovtzeff... Rostovtzeff felt that the continual and unabated tyranny of Egyptian tax collectors produced a nationwide decline in incentive. Egyptian workers and farmers lost their desire to work - agricultural lands fell into disuse, businessmen moved away, and workers fled. Sound money disappeared as a raging inflation destroyed what capital there was. The land became filled with robbers who wrecked commerce and brought fear and despair to the populace.
Remember the Magic Formula. It will come in handy someday.