Tuesday, December 2, 2008

We Are In a Recession, Maybe?

Stocks spent the entire Tuesday session making up for Monday's mess, finishing at their highs of the day. The gains were equivalent to roughly 40% of yesterday's losses, when the government - to the surprise of a limited few - admitted that the economy has been in a recession since the 4th quarter of 2007.

That revelation begs the obvious question: if a recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative growth in the GDP, can we assume that the government figures from the first two quarters of this year were slightly fudged?

The first and second quarters of '08 were "officially" gainers, so we were not in a recession then, were we? Or were we?

That's the problem when the government is made up of all variety of scoundrels and thieves, more intent on lining the pockets of themselves and their friends than actually working in the best interest of the citizenry: Numbers get abused, the populace becomes confused and everyone loses.

Last week's rally and the action today is somewhat of a suggestion that people believe the final days of the worst administration in US history will be quiet and uneventful. We can only hope and pray that there's still an economy worth saving by the time President Obama takes over the Oval Office.

Those sentiments are merely window dressing to the real churning that currently plagues Wall Street and the millions of Americans who dread opening their pension or retirement fund statements. There's some thinking that every decline is an opportunity to buy low, but, at the same time, an equally large number of traders is still looking for a bottom.

For the record, the lows of October 27 were tested, retested, and broken down in late November. The current low-water mark is now 7552.29 on the Dow, the closing price November 20. That number came about after the October 27 low of 8175.77 failed to hold. So, we can safely assume -- since we are in a recession, after all -- that stocks will sag through most of December, unless one believes that the bottom is already in (Please, don't make me laugh so hard.). until that low point has been thoroughly tested, bounced off and fleshed out.

Dow 8,419.09, +270.00 (3.31%)
NASDAQ 1,449.80, +51.73 (3.70%)
S&P 500 848.81, +32.60 (3.99%)
NYSE Composite 5,308.95, +216.29 (4.25%)

Today was a classic relief rally, with advancing issues outdoing decliners, 4882-1820, though new lows surpassed new highs by a score of 270-26. Volume was on the heavy side, and all this as automakers planned to return to Washington - this time with actual plans in hand - to cajole the head-nodders in congress for more money.

Those industrial giants will get their money, no doubt, and spend it like drunken sailors. All of this bailout money is going the way all things earned without effort go, quickly down a black hole. The US economy has a lot more worsening to do before it begins to get better, and throwing more money at it isn't a novel idea, nor is it likely to induce a lasting solution.

NYSE Volume 1,611,136,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,104,266,000

In the commodities markets, oil took another turn to the downside, off $1.66, to $47.62, while the metals advanced marginally. Gold gained $6.00, to $782.80, while silver added 18 cents, to end at $9.56 the ounce.

Gold bugs are insistent that the yellow metal should be trading in the range of $1500-2000 per ounce, though the current pricing seems to suggest that they too are overly optimistic. What the current crop of gold-lovers - like their counterparts in the equity markets - fail to understand is the devastating effect of deflation on all asset classes.

The global economy is likely to remain in a deflationary spiral for at least the next two years, probably longer. This is simply a sober assessment of what the subprime-credit-banking mess has wrought. Not only have trillions of dollars of wealth already been vaporized, there is still a limited amount of confidence in the markets. Nobody really has a taste for any of this bitter deflation pill, but it is one we all must swallow, like it or not. The consequences are neither simple nor pleasant, though, in a nutshell, it can be safely assumed that people at the top of the income and wealth ladders will be most severely affected, while those at the bottom will have alternately hard times or grand times, depending on how one plays the game.

Those who are frugal and opportunistic will prosper. Those tied to the economics of the last dozen years or so, will feel more pain than they'd like.

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