Some of you have intimated that I have become too chipper lately, and that lowering our cash position from ~86% to ~50% can only be the work of a madman, a rampaging perma-bull.
Well then, its time to run some counter-programming to that perception. Hence, I thought that David Rosenberg of Gluskin Sheff would help balance out my short term bullish leanings.
I love when David and I disagree, as I am always trying to find people whose approach and methodology I respect, but have reached very different conclusions from me.
This is what a depression is all about — an economy that 33 months after a recession begins, with zero policy rates, a stuffed central bank sheet, and a 10% deficit-to-GDP ratio, is still in need of government help for its sustenance. We had this nutty debate on Friday on Bloomberg Radio (Tom Keene is a class act, by the way) and another economist was on — the architect of the ECRI I think, who was claiming that there was no evidence of any indicator pointing to renewed economic contraction. And yet, that very day, the ECRI leading economic index comes in at a recessionary -10.1% print for last week. Go figure. The market for denial remains a lucrative one we would have to assume.
A depression usually involved a liquidity trap. In other words, expunging the debt excesses of the previous cycle leads to an ongoing contraction of credit where the demand and supply of loan-able funds is basically non-existent. This is why Libor (three-month interbank) rates are down to five-month lows of under 0.3%.
With President Obama’s approval rating all the way down to 43%, the Democrats are about to embark on a series of confidence-bolstering announcements.
Banks continue to sit with over $1 trillion of cash on their balance sheets and despite survey evidence suggesting a big thaw in once-tight lending guidelines, there is no indication that the Fed’s attempt to restart the credit engines is working. Companies are sitting on tons of cash themselves so they don’t need the money from the banks and households don’t seem ready or willing to take on major credit-sensitive spending commitments. Perhaps with one-quarter of Americans with a sub-650 FICO score, the typical U.S. bank loan officer doesn’t want to get fired for making the same mistake that got us into this mess in the last cycle and is actually requesting some documentation and proof of income (surely you jest).
Finally, you know it’s a depression when, 33 months after the onset of recession…
• Wages & Salaries are still down 3.7% from the prior peak
• Corporate profits are still down 20% from the peak
• Real GDP is still down 1.3% from the peak
• Industrial production is still down 7.2% from the peak
• Employment is still down 5.5% from the peak
• Retail sales are still down 4.5% from the peak
• Manufacturing orders are still down 22.1% from the peak
• Manufacturing shipments are still down 12.5% from the peak
• Exports are still down 9.2% from the peak
• Housing starts are still down 63.5% from the peak
• New home sales are still down 68.9% from the peak
• Existing home sales are still down 41.2% from the peak
• Non-residential construction is still down 35.7% from the peak
Folks, in a normal recession-recovery cycle, practically all these indicators are making new highs at this juncture of the business cycle.