The Storm is Over...

Irene was not so bad. She knocked down a few trees, flooded a few basements. But, in the end, she was a good girl who left quietly when her time came.

Traders, players, speculators and mid-night ramblers drifted back into Manhattan as soon as they could clear the fallen trees. They must have felt they had been spared for some great purpose. They must have looked to the heavens as clouds parted and rays of golden sunlight struck their uplifted faced. Whatever got into them, they rushed to the stock exchange and bought US stocks! The Dow rose 254 points.

If you believe the stock market, the storm is over…all is well…

But US GDP grew at only a 1% rate last quarter. That is a small number. Don’t look too carefully or it will disappear altogether. If you deflate the latest ‘growth’ number by the inflation rate published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (actual year-to-year CPI-U is 3.6%) you get negative real growth. Recession, in other words.

And then, you have to wonder. Suppose you were to adjust that number for population? US population is growing at something just under a 1% rate. What you would see is that the average American is getting poorer (his share of GDP) at about 3% or 4% per year.

And then you are able to make sense of a lot of the other economic information that comes your way.

For example, a report out yesterday tells us that the personal savings rate in America keeps edging up — just as you’d expect. From next to zero, it has moved up over 5%. Households continue to cut back on spending…and increase savings. In the last quarter, they paid down $50 billion of debt. A drop in the bucket…but at least it was the right bucket. The Wall Street Journal:

In a marked shift from their borrow-and-spend behavior during the boom, US households are now by and large prioritizing saving and debt reduction. On Monday, the Commerce Department is to release July figures likely to show the personal saving rate, or proportion of after-tax monthly income unspent, in the 5% to 5.5% range…

We also learned that gasoline use is at a 9-year low. Labor Day weekend is less than a week away. But this year, forecasters believe more Americans are going to stay home. They can’t afford the cost of filling up the tank for a long road trip.

We hope this is true. We’re driving up to New York from Baltimore to attend a wedding. We don’t want to get stuck in a lot of traffic.

But it is sad to think that people can’t afford to visit friends and relatives because they don’t have the cash to pay for gasoline. Oh, for the good old days! We remember buying gasoline for 25 cents a gallon back in the early ’70s.

Sigh…but that was before Richard Nixon came up with the funny dollar we have today. Let’s see…suppose Nixon had done the right thing? Suppose he had honored America’s commitment to settle her debts in gold?

There would have been Hell to pay in the mid-’70s…but isn’t it better to pay Hell sooner rather than later? After all, the entire amount of foreign claims against the dollar at the time was something on the order of $50 billion. Now, it is around $4 trillion. Maybe more.

So, just for fun…let’s imagine what would have happened. Of course, there would have been this aforementioned period of wailing and gnashing of teeth. And then? And then, US producers would have had to get busy making and exporting products…while consumers would have been forced to curtail their reckless spending. America’s trade deficit would have remained under control…and the US would still have jobs in manufacturing. And it wouldn’t have debt equal to 370% of GDP.

But how much would people pay for a gallon of gasoline? Well, let’s see…let’s assume that gold has done a fair job as real money, of holding its purchasing power steady. Back in the early ’70s you could have bought 160 gallons of gas with a single ounce of gold. And today? At $1,800 an ounce, and gasoline at $4, you can buy 450 gallons. It’s as if the price of gasoline had fallen to about 10 cents a gallon!

Hmmm….go figure.

Either gasoline is too cheap. Or gold is too expensive. If we were a trader we’d short the latter and go long on the former.

And since we’re always just guessing, we’ll take a guess as to what this means…

Gasoline is weak because the economy is fundamentally weak. Gold is high because Richard Nixon destroyed the integrity of the dollar, the US economy, and the world’s monetary system. Each of these trends will have to play itself out. In the meantime, gasoline…and/or gold…may need a little adjustment. And the storm continues…

At least the feds aren’t cutting back. The private sector spent itself silly in the ’00s. Now it’s the feds’ turn.

With all the talk of ‘cuts’ and ‘budget reduction’ you might have the idea that the feds are putting the same screws to their budgets as everyone else. You might have thought, too, that much of recent government spending was temporary ‘stimulus’ spending, intended to kick the US economy in the derriere, in order to get it moving faster. That spending might have been expected to taper off as the emergency passed. If you thought that you would be as dumb as a voter. The 2011 budget is on target to hit an all-time high of $3.6 trillion, more than $100 billion up from last year. Total outlays are increasing at a breathtaking pace — up by a third in just four years.

And now that the debt ceiling has been cracked…the sky’s the limit.

Whee!

Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning