This US Economic Recovery is Fake

US stocks fell about 1% Monday (give or take). Let’s see, the total value of the stocks trading on the NYSE is about $17 trillion. So, Monday erased about $170 billion worth of ‘wealth’. By our reckoning, there’s about $7 trillion left to go.

It’s too early to call a top…but we wouldn’t want to be sitting on the uppermost branch of this tree. The higher up you go, the more dangerous your perch.

From where we stand – on the ground and in plenty of cash and gold – the whole thing looks scary. There are too many people in that tree already…all of them counting on calm, sunny weather…and a longer growing season for their money.

What a shame it would be if the tree fell over…or a big branch snapped!

Everybody invests in stocks hoping to ‘beat the market’. But everyone IS the market. Only a few outliers beat it – usually by accident.

Of course, last year US stock buyers were happy just to ride along with the market. Beating it wasn’t necessary. As we reported, the rich saw their wealth rise by $3.7 trillion last year. Much of that came from the stock market, which hit new records.

Investors are hoping for a repeat of this performance in 2014. Even if it does half as well, they tell themselves, it will still be an impressive gain.

But we have some questions: Against whom are they gaining ground? From whom are they taking the loot? Or, to put it another way, who’s on the other side of the trade?

The US economy expanded at a rate of 2% in 2013. There was a grand total of about $340 billion in extra wealth to divvy up. How was it possible for shareholders to get 10 times as much as the value of the wealth the economy created?

But wait! The mystery deepens.

Since the depths of the financial crisis, household wealth has gone up by $21 trillion. (Roughly, it went from $50 trillion to $71 trillion.) During that same time, real household earnings for the typical family have gone down. Wages have gone down.
And the net worth of the typical family also has gone down. Growth rates have declined. And, as a proportion of the population, the number of people with jobs has also declined.

Look at a chart of real GDP and you will see that it is only about 6% higher than it was in 2007. So, household wealth went up nearly 20 times faster than GDP since 2009.

How could that be?

Team Bernanke was trying to goose up asset prices. It succeeded. The ‘wealth effect’ brought an additional $21 trillion to the nation’s balance sheets. This was supposed to increase demand, which would lead to more spending and investing.

Say’s Law tells us that you have to produce before you consume (more or less). But here we have about $20 trillion of excess spending power that seemed to come from nowhere. How could that be?

Wealth is either physical – as in owning a big house or a Modigliani – or it is paper wealth. Now, we have new claims on $21 trillion of real output and real wealth. If there is no increase in real wealth, that money just competes for the same goods and services that were already priced at $50 trillion five years ago. We’re not a dime wealthier, in other words.

All paper assets are a claim against real goods and services. You can’t get more goods and services than the economy can produce. Since the economy of 2008-13 produced only a fraction as much real wealth as the claims against it, those claims will have to be applied to future output.

So, when will the economy produce $21 trillion of new wealth so that these new claims can be realised? Let’s see:

‘[T]he future looks sluggish,’ wrote Financial Times lead economist Martin Wolf. He joins Larry Summers, who argues that US growth is stuck in the mud…and may not get out any time soon.

Since the start of this century,‘ writes Summers, ‘annual US gross domestic product growth has averaged less than 1.8%.

Hmmm…that’s about $300 billion. Let’s see, how long do you have to wait – at $300 billion a year – to cover $21 trillion in claims? Answer: 70 years!

Well, that’s not going to happen, is it? Long before 2084 rolls around, those claims will be marked down and written off.

In other words, the additional wealth is mostly a mirage.


Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Join Markets and Money on Google+

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 MoneyDice Have No Memory: Big Bets & Bad Economics from Paris to the Pampas, the newest book from Bill Bonner, is the definitive compendium of Bill's daily reckonings from more than a decade: 1999-2010. 

To have Bill's reckonings delivered straight to your inbox subscribe to Markets and Money for free here.

Read more

Bill Bonner

Latest posts by Bill Bonner (see all)

Leave a Reply

6 Comments on "This US Economic Recovery is Fake"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
The American economy is not recovering. This is like the saying ‘bears shit in the forest’ or ‘I I’m hit with a tidal wave I’ll get wet’. Seriously, If someone had been on Mars for 20 years, under a rock with ear plugs on and a blinfold they would see the American economy is not really recovering. Anyone who has just stepped off a starshipfrom far-far-awaycould see the American economy is not recovering. My pet cat can see the American economy is not recovering. So why is it that the Dachshunds of Parliament cannot see this? Peheaps it is hard… Read more »
Justin King

Even Bill O’Reilly is beginning to understand the lack of confidence in the dollar on his show today.
Wonders never cease.


Simple and Brilliant reckoning ;) – Thanks Bill !

slewie the pi-rat
Kirk: A wealth mirage? Spock: Yes, Captain… … most extraordinary, too… It has the ship in its Tractor Beam, now! We are trapped! Kirk: I have an uncontrollable urge to go shopping… Spock: Only because you are human. This is the design of the Klingon Fiat Wizards, Captain. We are in grave danger! Kirk: Scotty! Form up a Landing Party to go shopping! Prepare to beam us down to Andromeda Suzie’s Emporium! Set phasers to: Stun/Credit. Spock: Scotty and Zulu have already left without you, Captain. Kirk: No! Must. Go. Shopping! Spock: Bones! Sedate the Captain and place him in… Read more »
Hmmm Bill talks about being down on the ground with GOLD & CASH … Id love to know the real truth . your as invested in the bubble as any of us are come on tell the truth ! The daily reckoning always right and always invested in the ‘right thing’ Negging on stocks for 10 years until one day we get an i told you so moment and employing a slave to go back through the ten million email tips to find the line in small print to back it up !!! Im betting this reply wont be posted… Read more »
When we speak of a recovery we imply that theres was something much better and much bigger not long beforehand . What was better and bigger in the USA beforehand ? A bank crashed, so did an investment fund, the twin towers were blown up, em car makers stopped building in detroit, these are only man made things, and sort of normal turns of events,the show goes on, What exactly do we need to say we are ‘recovered’ Im in Europe and the odd person still speaks of crisis, usally a non worker. So i say ‘well what would i… Read more »
Letters will be edited for clarity, punctuation, spelling and length. Abusive or off-topic comments will not be posted. We will not post all comments.
If you would prefer to email the editor, you can do so by sending an email to