Saturday, August 27, 2011

John Mauldin's Thoughts from the Frontline - The End of the World Part 1

By John Mauldin | August 27, 2011
Fine, then. Uh oh, overflow, population, common food, but it'll do to
Save yourself, serve yourself. World serves its own needs,
listen to your heart bleed – dummy with the rapture and
the revered and the right, right. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam,
fight, bright light, feeling pretty psyched.

It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it.
It's the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine.
R.E.M. song from 1987

It’s not really the end of the world, but to read some of the analysis and data over the past week, it’s hard not to wonder if it’s not the beginning of the Endgame at the very least. There is more to cover than I can really do justice to, but we will just start. We HAVE to look at the US data first (briefly) and then on to Europe, where it will may be the end of the euro experiment, depending on two voting populations. Can you spell “Banking Crisis,” gentle reader? A nod to Bernanke’s finger-pointing speech, some links on the scourge of high-frequency trading, and we end on a positive note about the Boomer generation growing older. And, I answer the question that is burning in your brain: “How many years of US corn production will China’s dollar reserves buy?” Write your answer down now. This letter may print out longer than usual, as there are plenty of charts. Let’s skip the “but firsts” and jump right in.

What Is the CBO Seeing (or Smoking?)

Last week I finally stopped being wishy-washy (with my 50-50% chance of a recession call) and said the US would be in recession within 12 months. And suggested that you consider moving to the sidelines your longer-term equity investments, except your conviction stocks. (I have some of those in the biotech space and simply intend to buy more if the prices go down. But remember, I am looking out ten years and expect an eventual bubble, so I don’t care if I am early for some of my high-risk money.) Stocks typically go down about 40% or more in a recession. David Rosenberg estimates that we have seen 27% of a typical bear-market move, so that would suggest the possibility of another 30% downdraft (give or take).

None of the data this week makes me want to change my opinion on recession. Rich Yamarone (Bloomberg Chief Economist) and I traded emails as we got new data this morning, comparing notes. He does better charts than I do, so we will use his. (I hear, by the way, that he is being addressed as Lord Vader in the halls of Bloomberg. Come to think of it, his voice is rather raspy.)

As he points out, when GDP year-over-year drops by more than 2%, we have always had a recession. So with today’s second-quarter revision (first revision of many) down to just 1% (technically 0.99%, but we are among friends here), where are we? At 1.5% year-over-year. 

Here is the chart:

The normally bullish staff at gave us this rather dismal paragraph tonight as a summary to the week:

“The last week of the summer brings a rare Northeast hurricane and a heavy load of data that will show the economy running close to stall speed. Second quarter GDP was revised down to 1%, and the slight improvement in growth we expect for this quarter assumes no new financial shocks. Upcoming indicators for August will bear the mark of steep declines in stock prices. The employment report will be the headliner; nonfarm payrolls are expected to rise just 30,000, and the unemployment rate likely will tick up 0.1 percentage point to 9.3%. We think the ISM manufacturing survey dipped into contraction territory for the first time in two years, and auto sales and consumer confidence likely also fell during the month. There will also be significant interest in the minutes of the August Federal Open Market Committee meeting, especially given Chairman Ben Bernanke's omission of details regarding policy easing options in his Jackson Hole speech.”

Ugh. More on the Bernank later.

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