Are we in a recession, heading towards one, or
not? The stock market seems unconcerned with the Dow rising 3.2%,
S&P up 4.2%, and the Nasdaq 4.9%. This collection of news items
will help you sort this out.
The central question for those holding 401k,
brokerage, or other stock bearing accounts is "should I hold, or should
I sell?" Since stocks tend to decline heavily during recessions, it is
important to keep your eye on the signs of recession. So far, stocks
are indicating that there is literally no concern about an impending
recession. The data says this is a perplexingly out-of-touch view to
And for people who are wondering if perhaps they should hold off on
that next big purchase and save a few bucks for a rainy day, keeping an
eye on the recession indicators is also important.
First, let’s start with automobiles which are usually a very reliable
indicator of the direction of the economy. More auto sales? Then the
economy is going up. Fewer? Then it’s going down. This news is about as
ugly as it gets.
Automakers reported double-digit U.S. sales
declines in March as demand for trucks and sport utility vehicles
plummeted and consumers held back because of concerns about gas prices,
the housing slump and tightening credit.
General Motors and Chrysler both reported a 19 percent drop in U.S. sales Tuesday. Ford’s sales fell 14 percent and even industry stalwart Toyota was down 10 percent compared with last March. Nissan fell 4 percent, and Honda reported a 3 percent drop. Some automakers warned things could worsen in the near term.
Not only are fewer people buying cars, but
among those who already did? They’re not making their payments on them.
This next article also reveals that we are trending into territory we
have not experienced for a very long time.
Overdue Consumer Debts Highest Since 1992, ABA Says
April 3 (Bloomberg) — Consumers fell behind on car, credit-card and home-equity loans at the highest level in 15 years during the fourth quarter, another sign the U.S. economy is slowing, according to an American Bankers Association survey.
April. 2, 2008 (MSNBC)
The number of Americans who are more than 60 days late on their car-loan payments rose to a 10-year high
in January, Fitch recently reported, attributing the rise in late
payments to “increasing pressure on the consumer” in a weakening
Below, we find that employment suffered
its worst decline in 5 years and that jobs losses have occurred for
four straight months.
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) — In employment data that would seem worthy of the name recession, the government reported Friday the steepest monthly job losses in five years as well as a spike in the unemployment rate for March.
The report confirms widespread pessimism about the near-term economic outlook.
Nonfarm payrolls fell by an estimated 80,000 in March, the Labor
Department said. It marked the largest decline seen since March 2003,
underscoring how reluctant employers remain to committing to making new
Private-sector payrolls have now declined for four consecutive months, the data showed.
Perhaps most interestingly, the mainstream media is even beginning to
question these basic statistics, much as I have over the past 4 years.
Why do I care? Only because this indicates to me that the illusion may
finally be starting to wear off. Our economy is, literally, a Ponzi
economy, and faith in the official numbers is a prerequisite to its
continuation. So my antennae quiver anytime I see something like these
next two articles, both of which came out this week. Is the dam
beginning to break?
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com)April 4, 2008
[T]he headline unemployment rate might not be the best way to judge how the overall labor market is doing.
That’s because the unemployment rate calculates only the percentage
of workers who describe themselves as unemployed, divided by the number
of those potential workers counted in the labor force. So
under-employed people don’t show up as unemployed.
Also not showing up as unemployed are those who want a job but are
no longer counted as being in the labor force for a variety of reasons.
The number of people fitting this category rose by more than a
half-million between November and February.
Apr. 3, 2008 (FORTUNE)
A March CNN poll indicates that 91% of the population is concerned
about inflation. I’d ask a member of the remaining 9% what they’re
thinking – and what levels of relative fiscal comfort allow one not to
be concerned about inflation – but I’m entirely surrounded by
91-percenters. So how do we account for the discrepancy between the
Federal Reserve’s recent assurances that inflation is under control and
the 91% of the population that’s worried it isn’t?
There are several possibilities: The first is that we’re all paranoid.
We simply need reassurance from the authorities: Inflation rates are
fine, nothing to see here, move along quietly. The second is that the
Fed’s insistence on focusing on "core" inflation – a measure that
strips energy and food from the consumer price index (CPI) because
they’re theoretically subject to short-term volatility – makes
inflation seem smaller than it is, or than we feel it to be when our
gallon of milk that was 12% cheaper last year gets swiped across the
grocery store scanner, beeping ominously like a tiny alarm bell. (While
core inflation was just 2.3% in February, the CPI was 4%.) The third
and most disconcerting possibility is that the CPI systemically
understates inflation, in which case we’re paying for it taxwise, and
the government is underpaying Social Security recipients. In the words
of many a UFO spotter, it isn’t paranoia if they’re really out to get
Wow. Two articles in two mainstream press magazines openly talking
about the most obvious and glaring disconnect of our lifetime – the gap
between our daily lives and government statistics. There is something
in the air…