Economic Outlook For 2010
February 3, 2010
We're almost beginning to dislike ourselves on account of all the negative things we've been writing about. We don't like it, but we must be realistic and call them as we see them. Unfortunately, we just don't foresee much that we feel good about, except perhaps the price of gold, but that's good because everything else looks so bad. We've been writing about our interpretations of the Kondratieff cycle or Long Wave since 1998 and we pride ourselves in the accuracy of our predictions.
We think it is in our readers' interest that we give them a quick refresher on the cycle. The first cycle began in 1789 and the current fourth cycle commenced in 1949. A complete cycle lasts approximately, for one adult lifetime, or, about 60 to 70 years. It is divided into the four seasons. Each season lasts about a quarter of the cycle. The definition of each Kondratieff season is similar to its annual calendar counterpart. Hence, the Kondratieff spring represents the birth of the economy. Summer is the season when the economy reaches its fruition. The Kondratieff autumn is the 'feel good season,' because of the huge bull market in stocks, bonds and real estate. In the Kondratieff winter the economy dies, overcome by debt. Since each season is very similar in each cycle, it allows us to make forecasts with a remarkable degree of accuracy. We are now in the Long Wave winter. This was signalled by the peak in equity prices in the great autumn bull stock market in 2000; the peak in consumer confidence, which also occurred in 2000 and the double bottom in the price of gold; once in 1999 and the second time in 2001.
During the Kondratieff winter the economy dies because the debt bubble, which has been massively inflated during the Kondratieff autumn, explodes. Effectively, this destroys both creditors and the debtors alike. We have already witnessed the beginnings of this process. However, there is much worse to come, and we'll get to that shortly.
"I've seen the future; it's like the present, only longer" says Dan Quisenberry, American baseball player. This is true for almost all of our lives. In other words, tomorrow is going to be very much like today; it may rain, whereas today it's sunny or vice versa, but our lives are going to be little changed. We'll get up, drive or walk to the office, do our work for which we'll get paid; then we'll go home and have our supper, watch a little TV and go to bed. The same routine will follow tomorrow and as we see it, for the remainder of our working life.
The economy and the stock market have followed similar certainties since 1949. Essentially, they have progressed and improved since that time. So, we expect that in the future it will be the case again. But that's not to be. The Kondratieff winter will see to that. It will see the destruction of the economy and the stock market. Most of us cannot conceive that, because we have been so conditioned to believe in constant progress. It's a huge problem for anyone who doesn't realize that circumstances have changed , because these people, and that includes almost everyone, will continue to embrace investment strategies which have worked since 1949. In troubled times, they will buy the U.S. dollar and U.S. government debt because aren't they as good as gold? That's always been a good safe haven strategy. Well, it isn't any more because we're now in the Kondratieff winter and debt is an anathema in winter, as are stocks and real estate.
The year 2010 will likely introduce the second chapter of the economic depression. The first chapter began in July, 2007, with the failure of two Bear Stearns hedge funds and the subsequent commencement of the second instalment of the bear stock market in October, 2007. This was followed by the collapse of the subprime mortgage market and the failure of the banking system, principally, in the United States and Great Britain. Massive government bailouts appeared to breathe new life into the financial system, the economy and the stock markets during 2009. However, as we discussed in our Winter Warning publication of January 11, 2010, "It's The Debt, Stupid," indebtedness is the economic killer. Debt hasn't disappeared; in fact, in most sectors of the global economy, it's bigger than ever. Debt will be the catalyst for the economic and stock market collapses that we anticipate in 2010.
The above chart covers the entire Kondratieff cycle on just one page. It shows the major financial and economic occurrences in each of the seasons and shows highs or lows in major financial or economic events, which identify the move from one season to another. It identifies the investment securities that perform the best in each of the seasons. We are now in the Kondratieff winter, indentified by a peak in the autumn bull stock market, a peak in consumer confidence and a bear market bottom in gold prices. Winter is the season when the economy dies, overcome by debt. In this economic environment, cash and gold are the best investments.
In the first quarter of 1981, which marked the onset of the current Long Wave autumn, debt per GDP stood at 158.2%. Today it's in excess of 400%. In other words, it has more than doubled through the Kondratieff autumn. By comparison in 1929, at the end of the 3rd. Kondratieff autumn, U.S. debt as a measure of GDP was 163.3%. The U.S. Government had used the 1920s economic boom to pay down its debt significantly, so that most debt was owed by consumers and corporations. By 1933, U.S. debt to GDP had exploded to 263%, about 100% below current levels, because GDP collapsed. The US gross domestic product had declined by 45% and that drop accounted for the spike in debt per GDP.
Within the Kondratieff cycle the biggest increase in debt always occurs during autumn and in the U.S. it is greater than 400%. Imagine a comparable decline in GDP this Long Wave winter and its impact on the debt to GDP ratio. Actually, we believe it will be more significant than it was between 1929 and 1933, because debt levels are far greater now than they were then. A reduction in GDP by 45%, without any further increases in the overall U.S. debt would spike the US debt to GDP level to more than 700%. At that ratio, U.S. Treasury notes and bonds would likely have no buyers.
So, 2010 is likely to witness a resurgence of global debt problems, not least of which will be sovereign debt. We are truly amazed by the similarities of this Kondratieff winter with its counterpart of the early 1930s. In April 1931, one of the largest banks in Austria, the Kredit Anstalt bank collapsed. This led to Austria's bankruptcy, which was followed soon thereafter by Germany. It wasn't long before the entire world monetary system began to break down. This became a reality when Great Britain abandoned the gold standard in September, 1931.
The state of sovereign debt and the distrust of most national currencies today, are very similar to that which occurred 1931. In 2010, we are likely to witness the initial unravelling of the world monetary system which is based upon fiat or paper currencies.
Paper money has facilitated an unprecedented increase in global debt, not only at the national levels, but also, in the local government, as well as at corporate and consumer levels. We will see the global debt problem rear its ugly head again in 2010. It is for this reason that we don't like bonds of any sort, but in particular, we abhor corporate and consumer debt, which will be laid low by the economic crisis. The debt problems of 2010 will cause a new banking crisis, but which will not be alleviated by additional funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) because an extension of that program will be deemed politically unacceptable.
Fears of a European Union (EU) dismantlement have escalated to a level where the European Central Bank decided to issue a legal analysis of what would unfold if a member country decided to leave the EU. Entitled Withdrawal and Expulsion from the European Union and the European Monetary Union, the ECB document posts a dire warning for Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The above, notwithstanding, the European Union has affirmed that it will not abandon Greece and allow Athens' mounting debt crisis to jeopardize the euro zone. According to high level EU officials, as a last resort Greece would receive emergency support in an operation involving euro zone governments and the European Commission (EC), but not the International Monetary Fund (IMF). If the above-mentioned Euro zone weak sisters cannot get their financial ships in order, they risk being cast adrift on an economic Sargasso Sea, possibly soon to be visited by Iceland.
The drastically worsening debt situation worldwide will have a significantly negative impact on the global economy and specifically, on the economies of the United States and the United Kingdom. We see a significant drop in GDP throughout the world in 2010. This means that even without any increase in the debt level, the ratio of debt per GDP will rise. The word 'Depression' will likely become an accepted description of the economy.
Unemployment will rise significantly, perhaps by as much as 50%. Based upon the U.S. official unemployment numbers of 10%, this would increase that number to 15%. However, we believe that the U.S. government's unemployment numbers are significantly understated. This means that true unemployment numbers in the U.S. might climb as high as 27% in 2010. (See John Williams shadow stats).
Given our dire predictions for the global economy, we believe that international trade issues will come to the fore in 2010, as they did in 1930 with the enactment of the Smoot-Hawley trade bill in the United States. The process has already begun, but will gather speed as the world economies falter. China will become the scapegoat. The envious world will turn on China, forcing all sorts of tariffs on Chinese products. China might reciprocate by selling her U.S. Treasury holdings. How would that affect U.S. bond yields?
The Stock Market
Because the economies of the world will be collapsing in 2010, stock markets will collapse also. In the United States, we are confident in our assertion that the initial stock market recovery highs have already been posted.
As we have written in "Dow 1,000 Is Not A Silly Number", we consider that the stock market recovery from March, 2009 to January of this year, was in effect a comparable recovery which was enacted by the actions of the Federal Reserve during the October, 1929 crash. That recovery in prices brought about by low interest rates and easy credit, propelled the Dow up 100 points into April, 1930 and recovered about 50% of the losses experienced from September to mid-November 1929. This stock market recovery also garnered a huge renewal in optimism, much like we see today. However, after April, 1930 the stock market continued its freefall with prices falling by about 50% in a year. We are confident that a similar stock market decline awaits us this year and we stand by our target of 5,250 points for the Dow if not during this year, then early in 2011.
The Federal Reserve
All the current economic and financial problems in the United States are directly attributable to the actions of the Federal Reserve. It creates the money, which creates inflation. What we have just encountered is probably the greatest inflation ever experienced in the United States. No, it wasn't an inflation in commodity prices like the 1970s when the Federal Reserve was creating massive amounts of money to pay for the Viet Nam War and President Johnson's 'Great Society,' it was unbridled inflation in stocks, bonds and real estate prices. Not many people understand that, so they thank the Federal Reserve chairman for saving them from a new Great Depression. He didn't save them from the Depression, he and his predecessor, Alan Greenspan caused it.
Thus, in 2010, the Federal Reserve is likely to come under increasing scrutiny and public vitriol. The 1907 stock market crash was the precursor to the creation of the Federal Reserve and we believe that the start of the stock market crash 100 years later in 2007, will lead to its demise a century after its birth in 1913.
The year 2010 will likely see the end of Timothy Geithner as U.S. Treasury Secretary. The public is going to demand lots of resignations. To that end, the U.S. mid-term elections in November are likely to prove a disaster for Democratic incumbents.
China today is very similar to the United States of the 1920s. Like the U.S., China's industrial growth has been exceptional and exports have been aided by an undervalued currency. Today, China is the world's largest creditor nation, as was the U.S. in the 1920s. The parallels continue. There has been huge mal-investment in China as there was in the U.S. during the 1920s and corporate and consumer debt is unbridled. We believe that the calamitous experience of the United States of the 1930s will be China's experience commencing in 2010; that is, an economic depression and a collapse in the banking system. Following her 'baptism of fire', China should emerge, as did the U.S., as the strongest financial, economic and political power in the world.
Gold is money and that's all you need to know. Paper is not money, except as decreed by government. When paper money is created recklessly, as is happening all over the world today, it loses all its value against gold. Voltaire (1694-1778), who was a young man during John Law's disastrous Mississippi scheme, which was born and died on the back of paper money, said, "Paper money eventually returns to its intrinsic value....zero." The death of paper money is difficult to countenance, because we've lived with it for many years. However, the worldwide printing of paper money has reached outrageous proportions and that is the cause of all the economic and financial problems now besetting the world. (See: The Federal Reserve in this paper).
John Law's Mississippi stock scheme was created and developed through a continuous and ever increasing infusion of paper money. When the bubble burst in 1720, the solution was to print even more money in an effort to get the bubble going again. Does that seem familiar? Central banks around the world are trying to re-inflate the bubble. It won't work just as it didn't work for John Law.
The year 2010 is likely to witness a resumption of the economic and financial problems that began in 2007. This will presage a huge move from paper money into gold and probably into silver as well, driving precious metals prices considerably higher. Precious metals share prices should perform even better than the metal prices themselves, as they did in the 1930s. (See chart in 'That Was The Week That Was' January 18, 2010. www.longwavegroup.com).
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