Thursday, July 22, 2010

Bernanke Admits Major Policy Failures; Stocks Soar

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

What's wrong with this picture? In his bi-annual testimony before congress yesterday, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke admitted that after more than a year and a half of zero interest rates and $3 trillion in federal deficit spending since 2008, the best case scenario for the U.S. economy is slow growth and high unemployment. The S&P 500 is up 2.5% so far this morning on this 'good' news.

Bernanke's congressional testimony included the following statements (emphasis added by me):

"Most [FOMC] participants viewed uncertainty about the outlook for growth and unemployment as greater than normal, and the majority saw [at the June Fed meeting] the risks to growth as weighted to the downside."

"financial conditions--though much improved since the depth of the financial crisis--have become less supportive of economic growth in recent months."

"many banks continue to have a large volume of troubled loans on their books, and bank lending standards remain tight. With credit demand weak and with banks writing down problem credits, bank loans outstanding have continued to contract."

"After two years of job losses, private payrolls expanded at an average of about 100,000 per month during the first half of this year, a pace insufficient to reduce the unemployment rate materially. In all likelihood, a significant amount of time will be required to restore the nearly 8-1/2 million jobs that were lost over 2008 and 2009."

The market dropped as Bernanke delivered his testimony yesterday afternoon - and he was blamed for bringing it down. The Dow closed more than 109 points lower. The Dow was then up more than 117 points right after the open today and the Nasdaq gapped up over 26 points. The mainstream media reported bullish news out of Europe and good corporate earnings instantly turned market psychology around. One major news service stated, "earnings Thursday showed that if the economy is slowing, many companies are not being affected too much by the downturn". In other words corporate profits have decoupled from the state of the economy. While this may sound completely idiotic, it may not be as absurd as it initially appears to be.

If the federal government has spent $3 trillion of borrowed and printed money in the last two years, that money has to have gone somewhere. Either direct or indirect government purchases could be responsible for the current batch of good corporate earnings, although sales to the economically strong economies in East and South Asian are behind better performance for many U.S. companies that do most of their business overseas. So the private sector of the U.S. economy can be dead in the water, but corporate earnings can be good because the government has become such a large component of the economy (as is the case in socialist states).

While corporate earnings are up and cash levels are at record highs, the money doesn't seem to be flowing into the general economy. Despite the supposedly great state of corporate America, there are few announcements of major business expansions, nor is hiring picking up. The usual evidence of a robust corporate sector is simply not there. Weekly jobless claims in fact rose 37,000 to 464,000 this week. While 'seasonal adjustments' were cited behind the big increase, weekly claims have been at recessionary (if not depressionary) levels for two years now. Apparently there are negative seasonal factors in winter, spring, summer, and fall.

The alternative explanation for today's big stock market rally, despite major gloomy news, is the not so invisible hand of government manipulation. Bernanke made it clear early on that he was more than willing to interfere in the markets. When the Fed began its rate lowering campaign in August 2007, it did so one hour before monthly futures expired and this created a huge rally that wiped out the profits of the shorts (and gave a huge gift to the parties that were on the other side of the trade - the big Wall Street banks perhaps?). More recently, the Fed created a huge global liquidity facility on May 9th, after the Flash Crash, and markets soared - at least for awhile. Since there are major elections in the fall, investors should assume that powers that be will not want a crashing stock market and the announcement of a new recession. It will be interesting to see how they try to cover this up.

Disclosure: No positions.

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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