The US Recession Versus Japan's Slump
“Little else is required,” Adam Smith, author of The Wealth of Nations, once remarked, “to carry a state to the highest degree of affluence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice; all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.”
But this quintessentially laissez-faire perspective gains very little traction in modern-day America. In fact, it gains no traction whatsoever, except in a few fringey financial publications. Instead, America’s political elite conspires with the Wall Street bourgeoisie to lead the nation from the highest degree of affluence to the lowest barbarism.
The process begins innocently enough in the name of “crisis management,” as the political elite provides multi-trillion-dollar guarantees and bailouts to the Wall Street bourgeoisie. The proletariat embraces these bizarre, counterintuitive remedies because they genuinely believe these “remedies” contain curative powers. In other words, the proletariat believes that bureaucrats and politicians, following the self-serving recommendations of inept finance company executives, can deploy taxpayer dollars to the benefit of the masses.
Include us out.
The bureaucrats and politicians lack the requisite skills; the Wall Street bourgeoisie lack the requisite morality. Like a meeting between coyotes and butchers, nothing good could ever come from close interaction between Washington and Wall Street. If the butchers suggested converting all felines into meal, the coyotes would simply yelp and howl their approval.
Your editors here at the Rude Awakening would prefer that the coyotes and butchers not conspire with one another. No one benefits….other than the coyotes and the butchers.
But what’s the use of complaining. We try never to complain, merely to understand. We try to identify and anticipate the key influences that are operating upon the financial markets. Identifying the key influences is usually not that difficult. But determining the effect of these influences is often very difficult.
During the last several months, for example, investors have been greeting the daily barrage of bad economic news as GOOD news for the stock market. We are not exactly certain why this would be so, but we are familiar with the daily banter of various financial news media. Therefore, we have encountered, ad nausea, phrases like, “better than expected,” “green shoots of recovery,” and “credit markets improving.”
We have encountered these phrases, and we have thoroughly and completely rejected them. We do not believe these phrases contain a single atom of validity, nor a single molecule of data that will produce a profitable investment result. That said, we should point out to the newest readers of the Rude Awakening that your editors have been wrong before…and may be again.
But we won’t let that stop us. The stock market’s splendid rally during the last three months was a classic bear market rally. The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrials and the NASDAQ Composite all rallied more than 40%. But great big rallies like these are not rare during great big bear markets.
As we pointed out last week, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index rallied more than 30% on ten different occasions during the last two decades. And yet, the Nikkei remains more than 50% below the all-time high it established in 1989.
Could a version of this sorry scenario unfold here United States? Sure. Why not?
The nearby charts place the recent rally on Wall Street in a “Japanese context.” The chart above compares the first 20 months of our current American bear market to the first 20 months of the Nikkei’s bear market. The chart below places this 20-month period in a 20-year context. If the American stock market were to have the misfortune of mimicking the Nikkei, the road ahead would be long and painful.
Your California editor is not predicting such a scenario. But neither does he believe that “Happy days are here again.” The road ahead – both for the economy and for the stock market – is likely to be long and painful. How long and how painful is anyone’s guess. Our guess would be: Not as bad as Japan’s experience, but much worse than most Americans currently expect.
The chart above may contain a helpful glimpse into the future we fear. Despite the fact that most investors believe the worst of the recession is behind us, the nation’s employment situation is far worse than anything we have endured during the last five recessions.
So you tell me, are things getting worse or are things getting better?
The only thing we know for certain is that government intervention increases by the day, Wall Street’s malevolent influence increases by the day, the pressure to raise taxes increases by the day, the nation’s monstrous indebtedness increases by the day, threats to the dollar’s vulnerabilituy increases by the day, and therefore the long-term viability of America’s legendary capitalistic dynamism DE- creases by the day.