Painful Adjustments to the "New Normal" Economy

We left our Crash Alert flag up while we were away in the mountains. And for a while last week it looked like we were geniuses. Stocks seemed like they were going to crash.

But along came two very important bits of information.

First, we got word that the crisis was officially over. GDP grew last quarter. Thanks to all the Cash for Clunkers, Cash for Bankers, Cash for Houses, Cash for Trash, and cash for every other blessed thing under heaven, the number crunchers were able to report positive economic growth for the third quarter.

Let’s not get too excited. Stocks bounce. Bonds bounce. An economy bounces. Even dead economists bounce. And if we’re following the Japanese experience, with a long, slow on-again/off-again period of depression, we can expect some quarters of growth, followed by quarters of non-growth. It’s going to be a painful adjustment to the ‘new normal,’ whatever that is.

The other important bit of news was that the Fed – faced with undeniable evidence of growth and prosperity – decided to err on the side of caution. It will keep monetary policy loose from here until kingdom come, if necessary, in order to avoid a Japan-style slump.

But so far, a Japan-style slump is just what we seem to have…and our public officials are fighting it, Japan-style.

Unemployment is headed up. The U6 figure – a more accurate picture of how many people are out of work – is up to 17%. There are 1.5 million homeless children in the US now, including 300,000 in the state of California alone. One out of 10 Americans will not bite the hand of government – for it is the hand that gives him his food stamps.

Foreign direct investment has dropped 30%. International trade is down 10%.

Do you call this a recovery? We don’t.

As David Rosenberg puts it, the man on the street is perhaps “less enthused by the fact that a lower rate of inventory de-stocking is arithmetically underpinning GDP growth at this time.”

In other words, it’s ‘growth’ that only an economist could love…and then, only an economist who was an idiot. Rosenberg:

“Put simply, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll just found that 58% of the public believe the economic recession still has a ways to go – and that is up from 52% in September and means that the private investor, unlike the hedge fund manager, is not interested in adding risk to the portfolio even after a 60% surge in the equity market.

“Only 29% of those polled believe the economy has hit bottom – imagine having that psychology with nearly zero interest rates, a bloated Fed balance sheet and unprecedented fiscal deficits (poll was taken from October 23-25). Nearly two in three (64%) said the rally in the stock market (still a bear market rally – not the onset of a new bull market) has not swayed their view (or ours for that matter). There is going to be some very tough slogging ahead as far as the economy is concerned.”

Growth is largely illusional. It is the result of delusional policy-making at the Fed.

So, we’ll just keep our Crash Alert flag flying.

Meanwhile, gold hit a new record high yesterday. It’s at $1,089. More on gold, below.

The Dow went up too – 203 points yesterday. It’s over 10,000 again. Not very impressive for a bear market bounce. A 50% retracement would take the Dow to 10,300.

But you have to give the bounce credit. It’s been going on since March. That is impressive.

And now everyone is bullish, except us. We’ll see who’s right… in the fullness of time…

Gold seems to be advancing towards a new milestone – $1,100. Makes us nervous. We always feel more comfortable out in the wide, open spaces…that is to say, in trades we have all to ourselves.

But gold is still a marginal holding by marginal investors – like us. Central banks – especially those in emerging countries – have very little gold. The man on the street doesn’t know anything about gold. He wouldn’t know a gold coin if it hit him on the head.

As gold becomes accepted as a true store of value, we can expect more and more people to want to own it.