Hale “Bonddad” Stewart is a former bond broker with several regional firms. He has been involved with the financial markets since 1995. He is a graduate of the Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s LLM program with a dual concentration in international and domestic taxation. He currently practices tax law in Houston, Texas.
One of the more ridiculous statements going around over the last few weeks is “this is an Obama bear market.” This statement is, well, ill-informed at best and fraudulent at worst. Let’s look at why.
First — who is saying this? Such economic luminaries as John Hawkins at Right Wing News (who actually asked Is Obama Deliberately Tanking the Stock Market?), Powerline, Brit Hume along with a host of other right wing bloggers. What all of these people have in common is their incessant chearleading during the Bush years despite mounting evidence of an upcoming recession. There are the same people who argued that … housing is a small part of the economy … most people are paying their mortgages … the US economy will decouple from the rest of the world …. it’s the greatest story never told ….. you get the idea. Simply put, these are people who have distinguished themselves by being some of the best contrary indicators around.
Secondly, the SPYs — the tracking ETF for the S&P 500 — dropped from (roughly) 155 in the summer of 2007 to (roughly) 85 at the end of last year. Yet I don’t remember any of them saying that was the Bush bear market — even though that’s a drop of roughly 43%. No — it’s the new President that’s causing the problems. In addition, when Bush took office the SPYs dropped from roughly 130 at the begging of 2001 to 85 in the fourth quarter of 2002. Yet somehow I don’t think any of them blamed Bush’s policies for the drop. Then it was the “lasting effects of the Clinton recession” or something similar.
What all of these idiots are forgetting is the simple fact that the economy is the backdrop of the stock market. When the economy does well the stock market does well. When the economy doesn’t do well, the stock market doesn’t do well. And to that end, the economy isn’t doing well right now. Let’s look at some recent news events.
Real gross domestic product — the output of goods and services produced by labor and propertylocated in the United States — decreased at an annual rate of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008,(that is, from the third quarter to the fourth quarter), according to preliminary estimates released by theBureau of Economic Analysis. In the third quarter, real GDP decreased 0.5 percent.
Nonfarm payroll employment continued to fall sharply in February (-651,000), and the unemployment rate rose from 7.6 to 8.1 percent, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor reported today. Payroll employment has declined by 2.6 million in the past 4 months. In February, job losses were large and widespread across nearly all major industry sectors.
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest that national economic conditions deteriorated further during the reporting period of January through late February. Ten of the twelve reports indicated weaker conditions or declines in economic activity; the exceptions were Philadelphia and Chicago, which reported that their regional economies “remained weak.” The deterioration was broad based, with only a few sectors such as basic food production and pharmaceuticals appearing to be exceptions. Looking ahead, contacts from various Districts rate the prospects for near-term improvement in economic conditions as poor, with a significant pickup not expected before late 2009 or early 2010.Consumer spending remained sluggish on net, although many Districts noted some improvement in January and February compared with a dismal holiday spending season. Travel and tourist activity fell noticeably in key destinations, as did activity for a wide range of nonfinancial services, with substantial job cuts noted in many instances. Reports on manufacturing activity suggested steep declines in activity in some sectors and pronounced declines overall. Conditions weakened somewhat for agricultural producers and substantially for extractors of natural resources, with reduced global demand cited as an underlying determinant in both cases. Markets for residential real estate remained largely stagnant, with only minimal and scattered signs of stabilization emerging in some areas, while demand for commercial real estate weakened significantly. Reports from banks and other financial institutions indicated further drops in business loan demand, a slight deterioration in credit quality for businesses and households, and continued tight credit availability.
Expenses associated with rising loan losses and declining asset values overwhelmed revenues in the fourth quarter of 2008, producing a net loss of $26.2 billion at insured commercial banks and savings institutions. This is the first time since the fourth quarter of 1990 that the industry has posted an aggregate net loss for a quarter. The ?0.77 percent quarterly return on assets (ROA) is the worst since the ?1.10 percent in the second quarter of 1987. A year ago, the industry reported $575 million in profits and an ROA of 0.02 percent. High expenses for loan-loss provisions, sizable losses in trading accounts, and large writedowns of goodwill and other assets all contributed to the industry’s net loss. A few very large losses were reported during the quarter-four institutions accounted for half of the total industry loss-but earnings problems were widespread. Almost one out of every three institutions (32 percent) reported a net loss in the fourth quarter. Only 36 percent of institutions reported year-over-year increases in quarterly earnings, and only 34 percent reported higher quarterly ROAs.
I could go on, but you you get the idea. The news of the underlying economy has been terrible (at best). And that’s what’s causing the problems.