Friday, August 14, 2009

A Recovery Reminscent of 1990s Japan

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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Economists are predicting that the U.S. recession is over or will be soon. A Wall Street Journal survey found that 57% of economists think the recession is already over. Another 23% think it will end this month or next. Their predictions for GDP growth in the third quarter are currently around 3% and range as high as 6%. Nevertheless economists are not predicting that the employment picture will be improving anytime soon or that incomes will rise. They make it clear that the recovery means "things are less bad than they were previously" and "this is definitely a recovery that only a statistician can love". Statistics are indeed one of the few things that will be manufactured while the blossoming 'recovery' takes place.

The big areas of the economy are still not doing well, even in the statistics. Retail sales surprised economists yesterday when they fell 0.1% in July. Economists had predicted they would rise 0.7%. The key to the 'improvement' was the government's cash for clunkers program which is revving up the auto industry (you should ask yourself, what is going to happen to the auto industry when this program stops?). Indeed it did, but not enough to turn retail sales positive. Excluding autos, retail sales were down 0.6%. General merchandise sales were down 0.8% and department store sales down 1.6%. Yeah, consumers are spending again all right. Consumer spending is 70% of the U.S. economy.

CPI was out this morning and prices were supposedly down 2.1% year over year. Responsible for most, if not all of the drop, were energy prices which were down more than 28%. Oil peaked last July at $147 a barrel, then dropped sharply until hitting $33 a barrel in December. Going forward the current oil price compared to last years is going to turn from a huge drop into possibly a big gain. Expect CPI figures to start rising in the fall as a result.

The industrial production figures are out later this morning and after dropping 17 months in a row are expected to be up. While this is hardly surprising, expect the press to claim it indicates recovery. This is like saying a stock that dropped 17 days in a row and then goes up on the 18th day is rallying.

New numbers were released this morning on the real estate market. At the end of the second quarter, 32.2% of all U.S. mortgaged properties were under water. This unbelievable huge number was actually down slightly from the 32.5% at the end of the first quarter. The real estate industry declared that this was "great news". While all of these mortgages are potential future foreclosures, it is currently predicted that the U.S. foreclosure rate will peak at only 4%. If the U.S. government pays off the mortgages for the other 28%, and I wouldn't put it past them, this could happen.

Essentially any good GDP numbers will be the result of government injections into the economy. This is like a company that borrows a million dollars including the million dollars as part of its earnings. Government boosting of GDP on borrowed or printed money should not be included in the figures (don't assume that reform is ever going to be made). In these circumstances, when the programs that boosted the economy end, GDP falls right back down. This is exactly what happened in Japan in the 1990s and early 2000s. The economy stayed in the doldrums for two decades.

NEXT: Japan Climbs Out of Recession ... Again

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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