They Say the Stock Market ‘Looks Ahead’

“What’s that smell?”

We were on an airplane when Edward, 15, noticed an odor that seemed out of place.

“Dad…you should have at least cleaned your boots!”

The manure began accumulating when we rode up to the high pasture on Tuesday. More about that below…

In the meantime, the Dow rallied a bit yesterday – up 127 points…barely half of what it lost on Monday.

Is the bounce still bouncing? We don’t know. But we don’t trust it. They say the stock market ‘looks ahead.’ So, it is possible for it to see things we can’t see. On the other hand, what was it looking at two years ago? Didn’t it see the economy going over a cliff? Apparently not.

But investors tend to believe what they want to believe. And what they want to believe is that the stock market has had its vision corrected and now sees a recovery.

Our guess is that they are wrong on both scores. The stock market is just as blind now as it was in early 2007…and there is no recovery coming any time soon. As to the first point, we have no further evidence to present…but as to the second; at least we have a theory.

By our reckoning, this is not a recession…this is a depression. In a recession, the bull market formula still works. It just needs a little time to rest…catch its breath…work off inventories…and rebuild cash accounts. But in a depression, the formula stops working.

The basic formula that drove the U.S. economy for the last 60 years has been the expansion of consumer spending. At first, that spending was healthy spending. People had built up savings during the war. In the Eisenhower years, they were ready to get back to work in the consumer economy, get married, have children, and spend money. America was the world’s leading lender…leading exporter…leading manufacturer…and leading everything. Gradually though, having so many advantages caught up to the United States of America. By the ’70s, the Nixon administration thought it could do away with the gold backing for the currency. By the ’80s, the United States slipped from being a net creditor to being a net debtor to the rest of the world. By the ’90s, American consumers were spending more than they made…and by the ’00s they had given up saving all together – depending on the savings of poor people in China and elsewhere in order to continue living beyond their means.

Each time this system was faced with a recessionary correction, at least in the last 25 years, the feds tried to stimulate consumer spending with easier credit. And each time, consumers took the bait and got hooked on more debt. That’s why the financial industry expanded so much…it sold more and more debt in more and more grotesque and amazing ways.

This time is different. This time the feds have responded with zero interest rates…and $13 trillion worth of bailouts and boondoggles. But the old magic doesn’t seem to work anymore. This time, the formula no longer works. Consumers already have too much stuff – and no way to pay for it all. They have no choice; they have to cut back. This is not a pause in the long cycle of increasing consumption, debt and speculation. It is a reversal of the cycle – with less consumption and less debt (more savings). This is a depression.

If left alone, this cycle will see falling asset prices, falling bond prices and rising savings for many years. Stocks should sell down to levels where they are attractive again – at average P/Es below 8…7…or even 6. And with dividend yields above 5%.

Of course, when that happens people will have lost interest in stocks. The financial magazines will have pronounced the stock market “dead” and Jim Cramer will have been booted off the air.

By that time, the economy will have been restructured too. There will be less retail space. Many malls will have gone broke. Living standards in America and Britain will have gone down. And many of the people in the financial industry will be doing what they ought to have been doing all along – taking lunch counter orders.

Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Since founding Agora Inc. in 1979, Bill Bonner has found success and garnered camaraderie in numerous communities and industries. A man of many talents, his entrepreneurial savvy, unique writings, philanthropic undertakings, and preservationist activities have all been recognized and awarded by some of America’s most respected authorities. Along with Addison Wiggin, his friend and colleague, Bill has written two New York Times best-selling books, Financial Reckoning Day and Empire of Debt. Both works have been critically acclaimed internationally. With political journalist Lila Rajiva, he wrote his third New York Times best-selling book, Mobs, Messiahs and Markets, which offers concrete advice on how to avoid the public spectacle of modern finance. Since 1999, Bill has been a daily contributor and the driving force behind Markets and Money.
Bill Bonner

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3 Comments on "They Say the Stock Market ‘Looks Ahead’"

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Jeez Bill I was feeling pretty good this morning but I think after reading your piece I’ll just go back to bed. Trouble is I probably wont live long enuff’ to see a return to ‘the good ol’ days’.

Edwin Matiuk
Bill’s comments concerninig are probably close to the mark. We can study the behaviour of the previous eight bear markets and come up with average figures like: the share markets bottom 16 months before corporate earnings do, they also bottom eight months before GDPs do, share markets rise eight months before corporate earnings do, and share markets have bottomed four months before consumer confidence has bottomed. These are actual averages of the last eight recessions. If we apply them to the lowest point in the markets in Oct. 2008, coporate earnings will be lowest in Feb. 2010, and the bottom… Read more »
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[…] recent post on The Daily Reckoning Australia , “They Say the Stock Market ‘Looks Ahead’” included a brief overview of the current state of the U.S. economy.  The basic formula that […]

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