Monday, March 30, 2009

Irrational Pessimism

This is in reply to a post on MillionDollarJourney.

@Ed:This recession is, of course, not over yet and may deepen, but none of these statistics are expected to get as bad as the prior recessions.

There are several logical flaws in the comparisons here:

#1: The interest rate on today's mortgages cannot reach the level of those previous recessions. There is already an excess of available homes and lots of people still on ARMs. Interest rates that high would absolutely destroy the economy.

#2: The interest number in 1981 was high b/c of inflation. Volcker, the Fed Chairman, wanted to wring out inflation by slowing the growth of money. He basically raised interest rates until the stagflation stopped.

#3: Your S&P 500 and TSX lines are both based on nominal differences. For a fair comparison you should calculate net change plus inflation. Either way, it's still pretty clear that the drops last year are in line with the drops in the other to recessions.

#4: Inflation, what models do we have stating that this isn't going to sky-rocket?

Clearly, the 0% inflation is due to the fact that the gvmt "printed" money approximately equal to the amount of money that was simply lost via bankruptcies. Of course, the 0.1% number dates back to January, but the most recent number that we have is from February.

Since the end of February, Obama has agreed to a trillion dollars.

The US is likely going to run a $2,000,000,000,000 deficit this year. That's two Canadian GDPs. Much of that money is going to come from Quantitative Easing, i.e: simply inventing money. In fact, that's the goal, the government wants to create inflation. From Paul Krugman of the NYT:

...having some inflationary effect — is what the policy is all about

So we're going to have inflation. We have to, but you haven't seen it yet b/c the money is being invented right now.

What's more, Obama has promised more trillion dollar deficits. Without a dramatic increase in US production, these deficits are going to cause significant inflation.

#5: The numbers are still getting worse.
An average of 55 forecasters in the January 15 Wall Street Journal survey expect real GDP to eventually reach only -2.1%

January 15 predates the enstatement of the Obama administration. Obama has likely seen the most active 100 first days of any president ever. He has produced several plans that simply did not exist in any way on January 15. You need to get more recent data than this.

Industrial production appears to have bottomed in September 2008.
Industrial production in 2009 has been down for 4 months.

The numbers I'm reading are even lower: From February 2008, industrial production has declined by 11.2%.

The news is full of stories of massive lay-offs, but unemployment is only expected to rise to 8.9%
Unemployment numbers are currently at 8.1% (from 7.6% the previous month). And across all sectors:
In February, job losses were large and widespread across nearly all major industry sectors.

The US national debt is into record highs outside of WWII.

The US is operating a tremendous trade deficit and has been for 25+ years. That number will not turn around.

The only politically feasible way out of the mess is (sadly) the printing of money combined with real economic growth. Of course, China's not really happy about the part where the government prints away its debt (and Canadians should be pretty peeved as well).

But the US has to find a way to convert their dollars into real assets and frankly they have some of the most expensive assets in the world, so they're not doing really well in that category.

#6: Everyone is wondering how low the stock market will get, while trillions of dollars sit in cash on the sidelines waiting for the right time to jump back in.

Where does this data come from?

From what I can see, the banks and insurance companies are tragically under-capitalized (i.e.: lacking in cash). The banks don't want to mark their assets to real market values b/c they're complaining that there is a lack of liquidity in the market. The current US plan with the "private/public partnership" is founded on the concept that these assets would be under-valued if sold at current market prices b/c of a lack of competition and liquidity. So the US government is betting a 500 to 1,000 billion bucks and providing massive leverage to private investors in an attempt to heal the banks. And while this is happening you're claiming that many trillions of dollars are sitting around just waiting to be invested.

If these trillions are waiting to be invested, why does the US government have to cook up plans with 12:1 leverage?

@ED, I don't think that you've made a very good case for yourself with one chart, old data and zero hyperlinks. It's obvious that your data doesn't add up. It's also clear that you're missing something really key about the US economy.

If they do not reverse the trade deficit, the economy will collapse. It's very key that we understand the size of the deficit. The US has been on a 25-year credit card spending spree and they don't have an easy way to even start paying back the money without dramatically "tightening their belts".

Even then a trillion dollars represents $33,000 for every US citizen. That's one median income here in Kansas City. That's a lot of debt, it's not going to be easy to pay off.

I'm going to posit that we're actually under-estimating the breadth of this financial crisis but that we'll have to wait until 2010 for it to widely understood.

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