A Recession of Fear

Uh oh… The wind chill is 50 below in North Dakota. And the storm is headed our way.

What happened to global warming? This report from colleague Chris Hunter in Ireland, where we have our Family Office:

“Ireland is under snow – lots of it. The media have dubbed it the ‘Big Chill.’ It hasn’t been colder since 1962. I stupidly tried to drive to a nearby village yesterday evening in said snow and got my car stuck in a ditch.

“I’m now holed up in a friend’s house waiting for an opportunity to rescue my car and get back to the office…”

Fierce storms are approaching the financial markets too. But almost nobody sees them coming.

“We’re now in a period of wealth destruction,” says George Soros. “It is going to be very hard to preserve your wealth in these circumstances.”

It is astonishing. But after the biggest financial crisis in the history of the planet, few people are concerned about wealth destruction; like James Cramer, they’re just interested in “getting back to even.”

At least, that’s the sense we get by talking to people in America…and from looking inside our own feelings. Are we worried? Yes…when we think about it. That is, we know we SHOULD be worried. But we don’t feel particularly worried.

We recall how we felt after Lehman Bros. went broke. We checked our bank balances. We looked at our portfolios. We counted our gold. We took inventory in our wine cellar, wondering if we had enough liquid assets to survive a long, deep depression in the style to which we wanted to remain accustomed.

We ranted and raved. Household and business spending were curtailed. Trips were cancelled. We ordered the children to stop getting pizzas delivered to the door; henceforth, if they wanted a pizza they’d have to walk down the street and get it themselves.

We deliberately tried to create an atmosphere of alarm. We knew trouble was coming…and we wanted to prepare everyone around us. It was a “WorldWide Financial Meltdown,” we told everyone. A WWFM, for short. This provided a useful shorthand.

‘Hey Dad, I need a new coat…my old one’s too small,’ Edward said last December.

‘Forget it! Remember the WWFM!’

Now, it’s more than a year later. Edward went out and bought one of those fashionable “Canada” brand jackets last month. We told him he could…and then gasped when we found out how expensive they are.

The fear has receded, not just from the economy…but from our own souls. We no longer feel it. Afraid? Why? We already faced death…and survived. Everything will be all right now. We count the months until we are even again.

And yet…when we look at the reasons for the fear last fall – they’re still there.

The stock market has not been corrected. It could easily get cut in half in the next six months. (We’re leaving our ‘Crash Alert’ flying over the building with the gold balls…until stocks reach bargain prices.)

The bond market could crash any time. The US is borrowing more money than ever before – trillions more. With such a huge increase in supply, demand…and prices…it should crack, sooner or later. Higher bond yields would send the whole economy into a much deeper depression.

Even our gold holdings could lose 20%-30% of their value. And gold stocks? They could get killed in the next stock market downswing.

Despite a truly monumental (albeit imbecilic) effort to revive the economy…the latest figures show the weakest post-recession recovery ever. Jobs are missing. Consumer credit is shrinking. Inflation is going negative. There is no real recovery…it’s a mirage created by government spending.

Monetary policy is useless (banks won’t lend; consumers won’t borrow). And fiscal policy, while apparently more effective, destroys wealth; it doesn’t add to it.

The more the government increases spending, to offset the correction, the more the economy becomes addicted to it. It’s like trying to cure an alcoholic by introducing him to heroin. Take away the government spending – as Japan tried to do – and the economy collapses into a deeper depression. Not only that, but the budget deficit actually grows!

In other words, the feds spend money they don’t have trying to fight a correction. This creates huge budget deficits, but it makes it look like the economy is recovering. So they slack off. Then, they discover that their fiscal stimulus didn’t really create any genuine economic activity. Take away the fiscal stimulus and the economy collapses again…reducing tax receipts and widening the deficit. In effect, the cure became a disease of its own! Now they can’t cut government spending. The economy depends on it. Instead, they’re locked into a debt spiral…more and more deficits…higher and higher debt…down, down, down, until…

…until the whole thing finally crashes.

Japan faced this problem in the ’90s. It eased off its stimulus program…and the economy collapsed. Now, it’s become hooked on government spending. Where does it lead? We repeat this prescient note from The Telegraph, which we sent you yesterday:

“This is the year when Tokyo finds it can no longer borrow at 1pc from a captive bond market, and when it must foot the bill for all those fiscal packages that seemed such a good idea at the time…

“Once the dam breaks, debt service costs will tear the budget to pieces. The Bank of Japan will pull the emergency lever on QE [quantitative easing…aka ‘printing money’]. The country will flip from deflation to incipient hyperinflation…”

But we’re not worried. Somehow it will all work out. Americans are still trying to get even. They still believe that the stock market will recover – fully. They still think the Fed is in control…and that our economists know what they are doing. They are delusional, in other words.

The Daily Reckoning