Monday, July 27, 2009

A Decade of Pain; The Mogambo on the Impact of Modern Economic Theory

Celebrating A Decade of Reckoning
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Monday, July 27, 2009

  • A service that is a disservice to the broader economy...
  • Final thoughts from the AF Symposium in Vancouver...
  • Small businesses are getting crushed in this depression...
  • The Mogambo on the impact of modern economic theory...and more!

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    A Decade of Pain
    by Bill Bonner
    London, England

    Heathrow Airport is a nightmare in many ways. It is so large it can take hours to get from one terminal to the next. Yet, when we came back from Vancouver on Saturday, we landed at 10:30AM. By 11AM we were in central London.

    We flew through the the express train. The whole thing took only a fraction of the time it takes us when we fly into Dulles at Washington.

    But London was in a sour mood when we returned.

    "Decade of pain predicted for public services," was the headline on Friday's Guardian from London. The reason for the decade of pain is the obvious one. Tax receipts are down - because of the depression. Governments are caught in a bind. Their revenues go down just as their costs - offering bailouts, counter-cyclical stimulus, and handouts to the unemployed - go up.

    Ireland and California have been in the news on this subject. But they're hardly alone. It's a problem for almost all governments in the English-speaking world. As for the rest of the world, we don't know.

    Ireland is facing its own decade of pain. So is California. This morning, California is in the news. Apparently, a deal has been worked out. The state will stay in business...and even pay off its IOUs. But it will mean cuts of 'services.' Here at The Daily Reckoning, whenever we modify the word 'services' with the word 'government' we feel we should warn readers that we don't really mean it. Most government services are a a government-subsidized business they are a fraud on the economy, absorbing valuable resources in order to provide a 'service' that is worth less than the inputs that were required to provide it. The service is a disservice to the broader economy.

    And today too we find that England is sinking deeper into depression; it too will have to endure a decade of painful honesty.

    "UK Slump Identical to that of 1930s," says Saturday's headline in the TIMES.

    A chart traces the minus 5.6% GDP growth over the past 12 months...paralleling the decline following the crash of '29.

    "The collapse is Britain's economy now rivals the worst days of the Great Depression..." continues the report.

    If it continues following along on the 1930s track, the UK economy will continue to decline...and bottom out at 7% or 8% below pre-crisis output. Then, it will bottom out over a period of a couple years before beginning a recovery, back to pre-crisis GDP levels.

    If that's correct, we're only about 2/3rds through the depression in terms of output...and only about 1/3 in terms of time. Remember, the first leg of the Great Depression lasted 43 months. So far, this one is only 19 months old. It probably has a ways to go.

    The stock market has a ways to go too. The Dow was up 23 points on Friday, bringing it to 9093. Like the economy, the stock market runs in long cycles - from bull to bear and back to bull again. The first post- war bull cycle took the Dow from under 100 to nearly 1,000 in 1966. Then, the index shilly-shallied around for the next 16 years. Adjusting for inflation, investors lost more than half their money during that period. Then began the big bull market that dominated our financial lives until 2007. But this bull market actually topped out in January 2000 - in real terms. Adjust for inflation and investors made nothing during the 2000-2007 period. So, the current bear market has been going on for nine years already. But if it lasts as long as the typical major bear market of the 20th century, about 18 years, that means it is only about half over. Look for it to end sometime between 2015 and 2020.

    Where will the Dow be then? We can make a guess. If the economy were to lose, say, 10% of GDP...the loss in incremental sales would probably erase about 50% of corporate profits. And the financial industry, which had been responsible for 40% of corporate profits at its peak, will probably go back to a more reasonable figure of 10% of corporate profits - so that's a loss of 30%. Of course, there's some overlap on these figures - and a huge dose of Daily Dead reckoning - but maybe the loss of corporate earnings averages about 60%. So, if 2007 were a base of $100 in corporate earnings, we can expect only $40 sometime in the future.

    The most important thing that happens in a bear market is that the multiples go down. Investors, who were prepared to pay $25 for a dollar's worth of earnings at the peak of the bull market begin to think they've been too optimistic. As the depression deepens they begin to see things differently. They see earnings continue to fall and feel they should be more cautious. So they take down p/e ratios...from 25 down to as low as 5. But let us say the p/e ratio goes to 8...on Dow earnings that are only 40% of what they were in 2007. Where would that put the bottom? Dow 1600. Allow for a little inflation...maybe 2,500.

    Watch out...

    [Where we are in the current depression - and what you can do to survive it - was touched on by just about every speaker at this year's Agora Financial Investment Symposium. If you weren't able to join us last week in Vancouver, don't worry - you don't have to miss out on any of the insights or advice offered at this year's event. We recorded each main session presentation in MP3 and CD form...and if you get yours before midnight tonight, you can get the recordings at 40% off! See here.]

    More news:

    "We have just returned from this year's Agora Financial Investment Symposium - and my head is still spinning," reported Kate Incontrera this morning.

    "When sifting through our pages and pages of notes, I noticed a theme that kept cropping up throughout all of the speeches: innovation. With the current economic environment, it's clear that the old way of doing things is not going to cut it - you need to step out of your comfort zone and go along with the change, instead of fighting it.

    "One clear example came from Resource Trader Alert's Alan Knuckman. Though many investors shy away from commodities and natural resource investing because of the volatility in the markets, Alan believes that's exactly the reason you should be getting involved in commodities. Step up to the plate and use the volatility to your advantage."

    [You can hear Alan's full speech on your commute to work. You can purchase the full main session presentations from last week's Symposium in CD or MP3 format. But hurry - at 12:01 AM tonight, the price jumps $100! Get the recordings now.]

    "Of course, much of the innovation in today's markets is coming from new technology.

    "'Continued growth in technology,' Doug Casey told us, 'will be one of the things that will solve the depression.'

    "Our intrepid correspondent, Byron King, also had an interesting example of innovations in technology shaping the world - specifically, the oil world. His presentation looked at what he is calling 'the perfect storm for Brazil and investors.'

    "We won't try to get into the technicalities of this investment story, but in a nutshell, Brazil's offshore oil resources may rival those of the total for Saudi Arabia.

    "'It takes companies with phenomenal technical and managerial skills, plus deep pockets, to play in this great game,' Byron told the crowd. 'The bottom line is that with the right companies working at it, there's enough oil down there to make it economic to invest and recover.'

    [Hear the whole story in Byron's presentation.]

    "Byron and Alan are just two examples of new opportunities for investors to take in this wobbly economy. It's clear that if you want to flourish right now, you will have to think outside the box.

    "'This is not a recovery. This is a depression,' our own Bill Bonner reminded us in his closing speech. 'You take the serious numbers that measure the health of the real economy and you'll see that things are not getting better - they are getting worse.'


    "All in all," concludes Kate, "this year's AF Symposium exceeded expectations. I've been attending this event for five years now, and each year the speakers and the presentations get better and better. I'm already looking forward to next year's event."

    [If making the trek to Vancouver was just not in the cards for you this year, don't worry. We recorded all the main session presentations, so you don't have to miss out on anything. And if you secure your audio recordings before midnight tonight, you will save $100! Get yours now.]

    And back to Bill, with more thoughts:

    The Small Business Administration reports that losses are rising. Last year, the SBA had to take back $2.1 billion in loans that it had guaranteed. This year, it looks like the total will be higher.

    Normally, small businesses lead the economy out of recession. But this is no normal recession. This is a depression. And small businesses are getting crushed. An AP report says small businesses are not bouncing back as hoped.

    Part of the phenomenon can be explained merely by the severity of the downturn. If this were a recession it would be a bad one - worse than any since the Great Depression. Consumers have rediscovered thrift. Households are cutting back. They do this by eliminating things that aren't necessary. Small enterprises often provide things that people don't really need to have.

    Another explanation involves the feds' response to the slump. Never before have they fought so hard to avoid a capitalist correction. But in their efforts to bailout Wall Street they not only ignore the side streets and back alleys where small businesses operate, they actually take away money from what might be called the small business economy in order to pay off their friends on Wall Street.

    This is how you put the 'great' into a Great Depression - by depriving the small business sector of the capital and freedom it needs to innovate and grow.

    "What kind of cattle do you raise in the ranch?" asked a friend in Vancouver.

    "Well, there are three types of cattle," we explained. "There are feed lot cattle...which are fattened up on grain. And there are grass fed cattle - which Argentina is famous for. But I've got sand-fed beef."

    "Sand fed?"

    "Yeah, it's pretty dry up there. Every time I go up I wonder what they eat. It hasn't really rained in two years. I see almost no grass. I figure they must eat sand. We've got a lot of that..."

    "What do they look like?"

    "They're brown and very skinny."

    "They don't sound very appetizing..."

    "They're not...almost too tough to eat. But they have one big advantage.

    "What's that?"

    "Very low cholesterol.

    "Yes, it's a selling point. Sand-fed beef is very low in cholesterol. And fat. And everything else. Calories too. It's low-cal beef. We were thinking of calling it 'zero beef.' But we decided on 'sand-fed' instead. "

    "Is it good...? Do people come back for more?"

    "Not very often. They can usually only eat one steak. It wears their teeth down so much."

    Until tomorrow,

    Bill Bonner
    The Daily Reckoning

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    The Daily Reckoning PRESENTS: Along with the ongoing economic downturn, there has also come a serious lack of respect for practicing economists. But where did this sentiment come from? And are there any trustworthy economists left? The Mogambo Guru explores...

    Don't Trust Economists Over 30
    by The Mogambo Guru
    Tampa Bay, Florida

    The new issue of The Economist magazine has a cover showing a book titled "Modern Economic Theory" melting into a puddle of what looks like chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream, and with the caption "Where it went wrong - and how the crisis is changing it," which refers to how nobody in their right mind trusts any egghead "economists" anymore, and even Paul Krugman, one of the worst of the worst of them, now admits that the last 30 years of macroeconomics as practiced by these econometric, computer-head lunatic savants was "spectacularly useless at best, and positively harmful at worst" which is still sugar-coating it, as far as I am concerned, and it has been disastrously, cataclysmically harmful in a huge inflection-point kind of way and the future will be dramatically different, as in Much, Much Worse (MMW).

    The artist in me is attracted to the cover of the magazine this week, and I loved the clever way that the artist had the book melting into something runny-yet-yummy that looked like puddles of chocolate and vanilla ice creams, which wordlessly explains why Modern Economic Theory was so popular in the first place.
    "the Austrian school of economics...has been insistent all along that the whole Federal Reserve modus operandi of creating excess money and credit was...a big, stinking load of bankrupting inflationary stupidity."

    My refined artistic instinct, however, would have had the book rotting at the bottom and melting into millions of disgusting cockroaches all swarming out, which is a lot more repulsive and thus artistically descriptive of the results of the monetary ministrations of the loathsome Federal Reserve, lo these last several decades, which created a constant deluge of money which, single-handedly, made all the weird Congressional insanities possible, all the economy-distorting government spending possible, all the crushing debts public and private possible, and our "We're freaking doomed!" future so pathetically predictable and indeed inevitable that, just as predictably and inevitably, gets me started on how this "predictable and inevitable" thing is the Exact Freaking Reason (EFR) why it is imperative that you buy gold, silver and oil! It's all so easy!

    The Economist magazine, also predictably and inevitably, does not comment on this Gem Of Mogambo Economic Wisdom (GOMEW), which is to buy gold, silver and oil on the advice of the last 4,500 continuous years of the world's economic history, particularly as it pertains to fiat currencies and the trustworthiness of governments.

    Instead, they admit that "There are three main critiques; that macro and financial economists helped cause the crisis, that they failed to spot it, and that they have no idea how to fix it," which are all only true in the broadest sense, although because The Economist magazine is filled with these same kinds of neo-Keynesian of guys, they are completely unaware that there are lots and lots and lots of economics people out here who did NOT cause the crisis and, in fact, the Austrian school of economics (see: to learn the only true economic theory!) has been insistent all along that the whole Federal Reserve modus operandi of creating excess money and credit was (to paraphrase into Mogambo-ese, which is to heap scathing disdain and utter contempt upon a wide range of people and things), a big, stinking load of bankrupting inflationary stupidity.

    And since you mentioned it, these same Austrian school of economics guys had it spotted with laser-like precision the Whole Freaking Time (WFT), too!

    And this does not even get into the unbelievable $2 trillion Congressional budgeted deficit-spending thing, which is enough to make you poop in your pants and exclaim "Yikes!" which is not as comical in real life as it seems when you simply read it on the page like this.

    So you can see how I am predictably nervous and trigger-happy, and when The Economist article said that "macroeconomists also had a blind spot: their standard models assumed that capital markets work perfectly," you can actually hear me in the background as I immediately jumped to my feet and exclaimed, "No! No, you blockheads! Their blind spot WAS their stupid Keynesian models! The whole thing was one stupidity piled on top of another one! Hahaha!"

    You have to pay particular attention, but if you look really close at the video surveillance tapes, that's me in the lower left corner in the background, demonically waving a pair of silk women's bikini underwear (which I did to attract attention, which it did, but not, unfortunately, in a "good way") and if you turn the volume up, you can hear me yelling, "How in the hell can you manage monetary policy on such pillars as, for example, 'the consumption function,' which is just the notion that you get some money, you spend some money, you have some money left, but each expressed, in percentages of total income, to three decimal-place precision? And which are then used as inputs to myriad subsequent equations of equal worthlessness, compounding and compounding the inherent errors with each iteration? Hahahaha! Morons! You're all morons to believe any of this silly crap!"

    Suddenly, the security tape goes blank, and thus my summation was lost to history, although I fortunately remember what I said. I continued, in my usual sarcastic way, "In fact, people are morons if they expect that this time, after all the times in history when it has been tried and failed, the government will - for the first time in history! - finally be able to buy its way out of bankruptcy by printing a lot of fiat money and, through some Absolute Freaking Miracle (AFM), a ruinous hyperinflation will miraculously not destroy the economy, the people will surprisingly not riot in the streets, and you won't hear The Fabulous Mogambo (TFM) predictably laughing and saying, 'I told you to buy gold, silver and oil because - Whee! - this investing stuff is easy when the government is acting so irresponsibly, ya morons!' and instead everything will be just fine after a gigantic deus ex machina occurs where some omnipotent supernatural being presses some kind of Cosmic Reset Button (CRB) to set everything aright, where everybody's losses are made up, everybody gets rich and everybody finds true love and lives happily ever after. Hahahaha!"

    Or, for the less optimistic, buy gold, silver and oil, which WILL come true, unlike that "true love" thing! Hahaha!

    Until next time,

    The Mogambo Guru
    for The Daily Reckoning

    Editor's Note: Richard Daughty is general partner and COO for Smith Consultant Group, serving the financial and medical communities, and the editor of The Mogambo Guru economic newsletter - an avocational exercise to heap disrespect on those who desperately deserve it.

    The Mogambo Guru is quoted frequently in Barron's, The Daily Reckoning and other fine publications. Click here to visit the Mogambo archive page.

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