Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bill Bonner, "No Durable Recovery"

"No Durable Recovery"
by Bill Bonner

"Oh woe! Oh woe! O! Bama! Where is thy recovery?

Yesterday, the world’s stock markets took a hit. The Dow lost 186 points…following a very bad showing in China. Is this the end of the rally? Could be. We’re not betting one way or the other. But we’re pretty sure this rally is going to end…and end badly…sooner or later. So far, the rally surpassed the rally in ’29 by a few weeks…but has not quite reached its magnitude. It will need another few hundred points to reach the ’30 level. But when the rally is over…then what? Despite the fact that a majority (!) of economists polled by The Wall Street Journal say the recession is already over, there is no durable recovery.

Nouriel Roubini, writing in "Forbes," explains why: “Data from the US – rising unemployment, falling household consumption, still declining industrial production and a weak housing market – suggests that the US recession is not over yet. A similar analysis of many other advanced economies suggests that, as in the US, the bottom is quite close, but it has not yet been reached. Most emerging economies may be returning to growth, but they are performing well below their potential. Moreover, for a number of reasons, growth in the advanced economies is likely to remain anemic and well below trend for at least a couple of years.

“The first reason is likely to create a long-term drag on growth: Households need to deleverage and save more, which will constrain consumption for years.

“Second, the financial system – both banks and non-bank institutions – is severely damaged. Lack of robust credit growth will hamper private consumption and investment spending.

“Third, the corporate sector faces a glut of capacity, and a weak recovery of profitability is likely if growth is anemic and deflationary pressures still persist. As a result, businesses are not likely to increase capital spending.

“Fourth, the releveraging of the public sector through large fiscal deficits and debt accumulation risks crowding out a recovery in private sector spending. The effects of the policy stimulus, moreover, will fizzle out by early next year, requiring greater private demand to support continued growth.”

Roubini thinks the United States will climb out of recession towards the end of the year…but then, it could fall back into a ‘double-dip’ recession. Maybe he will be right. Maybe this downturn will resemble Japan’s multiple recessions over the last two decades. Or maybe it will be a single, deeper and longer lasting slump – like the one in the early ’30s. We don’t know. Either way, it should be thought of as a depression, not a recession. Because it is fundamentally different. And the difference is: Recovery is impossible.

If the markets were to recover, it means they need to go back to the way they were. That, dear reader, ain’t gonna happen. Because it can’t happen. The economy can’t go back to what it was. In the 2005-2006 period, it was in the throes of a credit cycle blowout…where it took more than $5 of new credit to produce one stinkin’ extra dollar of output. Consumers had to borrow $100, in other words, in order for the GDP to go up $20. It was a period of madness that couldn’t possibly be sustained…and now, can’t possibly be revived. Who’s going to invest in another condo development in Florida now? Who’s going to buy derivative debt at 2006 prices? Who’s going to build another factory in China to produce more things for American consumers who can’t pay for them?

Well, ha ha…that’s the funny thing; the Chinese ARE building more factories.

But we’ll get back to that later. Comes word this morning that Florida has lost population, for the first time since 1946! People are leaving the Sunshine State because the big boom in suburban sand is over. A large part of the Florida economy was based on building houses for people coming down from the north. Now those people are going home and trying to pay off their debt. The point is, after a bubble…like after adultery…things never go back to where they were before. You can pretend that they are the same. You can act like they are the same. You can try to make them the same. But they never are.

A recession is merely a sprained ankle or a head cold. You can recover. But a depression is fatal. There is no going back. There is no recovery. Trying to ‘recover’ from a depression is a futile fight with the future. Governments try to restore the old economy – as it was. They prop up the old industries. They bail out the failed executives and speculators. They pass out money to people, encouraging them to make more of the same mistakes that got them into trouble in the first place.

But there is no going back. It’s a depression. The model has to change. The future…whatever it is…has to express itself.

The US budget deficit hit a record $180 billion last month. July’s deficit was nearly $30 billion more than total tax receipts for the month. In July, the feds only took in $151 billion in taxes…giving it the worst margin in history. For every dollar of revenue, the federal government spent $2.15. Not a very good business model. But the feds seem determined to stick with it – they’re going to make it up on volume. Deficits are expected to exceed $1 trillion every year for the next eight years. And that assumes the economy ‘recovers.’ If it doesn’t recover, the deficits will be much worse…with falling tax revenues and the need for even more stimulus.

The feds are running into the brick wall of the future. They’ve made promises – mainly to older voters – that now have to be fulfilled. And the number of older voters is increasing…as the Baby Boomer generation enters its retirement years. Social Security and health care promises alone will add trillions to federal deficits. By one estimate, US debt could rise to 300% of GDP by the middle of the century.

Of course, this poses a bit of a problem. US GDP is about $14 trillion. Three times that amount would be $42 trillion. Who’s got that kind of money to lend to the US government? No one. The first reason being that the world doesn’t have that much in savings. Second, because even if they did, they are unlikely to want to lend it to such a huge debtor. Of course, we’re always surprised by what people are willing to do with their money – and anything is possible."

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