1. The expectations are running high

The week of April 28 Barron’s ran a cover story “The Bulls are Back”.

bull in the water

AND NOW, FOR SOME GOOD NEWS: THE OTHER SHOE isn’t going to drop. After a winter of discontent marked by massive write-offs on Wall Street and a wilting economy on Main, America’s portfolio managers have declared that the worst is over. More than half of the institutional investors participating in our latest Big Money poll say they’re bullish or very bullish about the prospects for stocks through the end of 2008. Their forecasts suggest they’re even more upbeat about the first half of 2009.

The market expectations run high:

Market sentiment

This Barron’s declaration prompts me to write several posts that I want to unify by the title “Where is my recession?”. The goal is to carefully run through the bulls and bears arguments and collect the readers opinions that will help to proceed to the next step.

Are the bulls correct and the economy (what they really care of are the profits of listed corporations) is on the way to bottom soon and recover going into later this year? Or what we see is a classic front page indicator marking the foolish euphoria right before the real meltdown starts?

2. The economy as a dynamic equilibrium

First of all, what are we talking about? What is a downturn or a recovery? If we think about the economy is like a big barge that almost always exists in a state of some kind of dynamic equilibrium. Dynamic equilibrium means that there is a multitude of forces that are constantly pulling and pushing this barge in different directions and those forces sums up into one force that is making this barge to slowly drift in one direction. Most of the time this barge is slowly drifting in one direction with GDP growing close to 2.5% trend growth. Sometimes it slows below 0% or above 5% – way out of the trend.

What it this trend move at all? The civilization exists by consuming natural resources and converting them into goods. The western market economy proves itself to be the most efficient in processing the natural resources, which makes the developing world to ship their natural resources to us rather then trying to process them themselves. The whole process of working out natural resources and consuming the final goods is quite profitable and the western world is booking the profits according to this advantage.

Sometimes the inefficiencies develop. They can be different. Sometimes the natural resources are overconsumed and that moves the profit from the processing to extraction, i.e from the West to the developing world. That makes the West profits to fall and the chain of overproduction unfolds backwards until it hits the initial resource extractors. Sometimes one of the West countries tries to book future profits and that makes it fat and lazy and then the creditors come and bankruptcies follow.

To sum it I can say that when GDP grows too fast it it inefficient, when it grows too slow it is unprofitable. The economy is bouncing between the efficiency and profits but makes it very slow, in 4 and 8 years cycles. This process is slow and the economy spends significant amount of time at the both ends of each swing. When a trend develops it takes a lot of time before it can be reversed.

tanker

So the purpose of this exercise is to find out if the forces that are pulling the economy out of this recession are on the rise while the negative forces that are pushing are deeper are contained.

3. The bull argument

Let me try to collect the essential bull arguments.

  1. The interest rates are extremely accommodative. Compare current rates with 8% rates at the beginning of the 1991 recession
  2. The Feds are extremely cooperative with all other measures. For example, they are lending to non-regulated institutions, which never happened since 1930s
  3. The stimulus package will help the consumer to overcome all the temporary problems ad restore confidence and consumption
  4. The subprime incident is almost over

The following posts will address those questions

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