A Green Shoot in the Sahara

Despite all the data out this week — new and existing home sales, GDP, jobless claims — only one has given the Street a jolt: durable goods.

Orders for items meant to last a few years increased 1.8% from April to May, smashing Wall Street’s expected 0.4% growth. Never mind that orders in the first five months of 2009 are down 27% compared to 2008… May’s number is another green shoot! Hooray!


“I get figures on 70-odd businesses, a lot of them daily,” said Warren Buffett yesterday. “Everything that I see about the economy is that we’ve had no bounce. The financial system was really where the crisis was last September and October, and that’s been surmounted and that’s enormously important. But in terms of the economy coming back, it takes awhile. There were a lot of excesses to be wrung out and that process is still under way and it looks to me like it will be under way for quite a while. In the [Berkshire Hathaway] annual report, I said the economy would be in a shambles this year and probably well beyond. I’m afraid that’s true…

“I had a cataract operation on my left eye about a month ago and I thought maybe now I’ll be able to see green shoots. We’re not seeing them. Whether it’s retailing, manufacturing, wherever. We have a big utility operation. Industrial demand is down like we’ve never seen it for a simple thing like electricity. So it hasn’t happened yet. It will happen. I want to emphasize that. But it hasn’t happened yet.”

Speaking of Buffett, his annual charity lunch auction is proving to be an annual sign of the times. Last year, the oversized $2.1 million winning bid for a lunch with Buffett came from a Chinese fund manager — three times the previous year’s winning bid. This year, with only one day remaining, bids for the eBay auction are up to “just” $350,000.