Friday, May 22, 2009

Like sand through the hourglass...

As I said yesterday, in the end it’s all about the economy.

For several weeks now pundits have been agog about the 'green shoots' indicating a recovery may be at hand.


While it is true that the markets have recovered over 30% from last year’s lows, something just doesn't add up.

First quarter corporate earnings are down over 30% and there is a serious disconnect between stock prices and economic reality - just like in late 2007. Those plunging headlong back into the market seem to think that the 50% sell-off in 2008 was overdone and great bargains are now available.

I believe those investors simply do not understand the economic maelstrom of last October.

As I have said over and over, the crash of 2008 was a once in a multi-generational event borne of systemic problems in the economy.

Economists like Peter Schiff have succinctly identified the issue and we have profiled them on this site. The North American economy must allow dead industries to die and permit the natural restructuring of capital and manpower that will rebuild the economy.

But government is interfering. Like an addled heroin addict who cannot break free of his drug addiction, our governments continue to indulge in the traditional vices of over-borrowing and over-spending. Wherever the private sector attempts to correct its behavior, a bloated federal government overrides its efforts.

Faced with a meltdown of the banking system. World governments injected trillions of dollars into their economies and changed accounting rules to ensure that a systemic banking failure was averted. Though the system has stabilized, investors seem to forget that none of the fundamental problems have been solved. We may have survived the initial catastrophe, but the system remains wrought with faults.

By diverting trillions of borrowed dollars into keeping alive vegetative corporations such as AIG, Chrysler, Big Banks and GM, our governments are preventing new enterprises from access to vital labor and capital resources. We are enshrining inefficiency.

North America needs fundamental restructuring in order to compete in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Meanwhile, profitability in those countries that do the hard work of restructuring can be expected to rise disproportionately as the world economy revives.

The news wires are already a tither about another avalanche of loan defaults and derivative failures that are coming down the pike, sham “stress tests” notwithstanding. The "stress-tests" will prove to be nothing more than a confidence-boosting whitewash of the massive problems confronting the banking industry.

As corporate earnings fail to keep pace with the blistering ascent of stock prices, look for investors to bail on the market as they did in late 2008.

Only this time the damage will be even more severe.

After the crash of 2008, investors fled to the safe havens of the U.S. dollar and U.S. government debt.

It won't happen that way next time.

China, the world’s largest gold producer, has recently doubled its central bank’s gold reserve. China also floated a preliminary idea at the recent G-20 meetings to replace the U.S. dollar with a gold-linked international reserve currency. This idea may soon catch on among creditor nations who value real money but also want the flexibility to undervalue their paper currency for the benefit of exporters.

Russia, in a news story announced yesterday, has moved away from using the US dollar as its basic reserve currency (see story here)

At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. dollar became the world’s reserve currency because, at the time, it was “as good as gold.” Now the world’s largest debtor nation will suddenly confront the true weight of its obligations and be forced to significantly lower its standard of living.

We are nearing the crest of some serious (and tumultuous) times. And the markets are starting to sense it.

Earlier this month, the U.S. reported the first budget deficit for April in 26 years, with spending exceeding revenue by $20.9 billion, even though that’s the month when taxpayers have to stump up to the Internal Revenue Service and the government’s coffers should be overflowing.

So far this fiscal year, the U.S. shortfall is $802.3 billion, more than five times the $153.5 billion gap in the year-earlier period.

For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, the Congressional Budget Office forecasts a record deficit of $1.75 trillion, almost four times the previous year’s $454.8 billion shortfall and about 13 percent of gross domestic product. Bear in mind that the target demanded of European nations wanting to join the euro was a deficit no greater than 3 percent of GDP.

Meanwhile Chinese exports are dropping as the global economy weakens, with overseas shipments declining 23% in April from a year earlier. This leaves China (a nation that has already expressed concern about its U.S. investments) with less to spend on supporting that debt in the future.

This is not going to end well.

And Real Estate will be but one of the massive casualties.



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