Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Signs of Stupidity, Deflation and Depression

We've all heard about how Ben Bernanke, Tim Geithner and Hank Paulson saved the world from imminent financial collapse. Oddly enough, there was a Time Magazine cover story from 1999 about a similar trio of swashbuckling economists - Alan Greenspan, Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers - who were then called the "Committee to Save the World."

Hmmm... 1999. Do we all remember what happened after this bunch - as Time loudly proclaimed on their cover - prevented a global economic meltdown?

What are we, stupid? I guess so. How is it that just 10 years ago we hailed the Fed Chairman and two Treasury Secretaries as "saviors" just before the whole country went kaput, and are doing the exact same thing again right now? Americans, and probably the majority of the world's population has the word "STUPID" printed on their foreheads in invisible ink which only economists can see through the aid of their special contact lenses and eyeglasses. Thus, their ability to hoodwink us into trusting them and then to hail them as heroes is entirely of our own making. We are their enablers.

So, don't blame them for the problems we face. Blame yourself. Did you take out too many loans? Did you overspend? Did you run up non-payable credit card debt? Did you not save a nickel during all those "boom" years, first in the 90s and more recently, from 2003-2008?

Go ahead and cry, it's OK. I did it too. But, there's a happy ending to this story. Well, maybe not exactly "happy," but maybe not tragic either. Now that we're all broke and penniless, or soon to be so, we're all in it together, down here scratching for scraps of food and any kind of work. An old adage suggests that "misery loves company," and in this instance, it could not ring more truly. With the accumulated debt of the nation approaching $13 trillion (not including $4 trillion from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, or about $59 trillion from unfunded Social Security, Medicare or federal retirement benefits - or is it $107 trillion?), millions of our countrymen and women out of work, foreclosures continuing to rise and a federal government bent on nationalizing everything from banks to car manufacturing to health care, bells and buzzers should be going off all over the place, yet we, yes, we dopes with STUPID surreptitiously stamped upon our foreheads, continue to work and spend and pay and worry and buy and pay, invest and lose, leaving our money in the same hands of the same greedy bankers who took us down this path to ruin.

We all deserve to be lined up and summarily executed, along with the congress and every member of the administration (people we voted into office). That would leave just little kids with no understanding of debt, the ultimate solution. I pray that my little tirade of sarcasm hasn't scared you into thinking it might just turn out that way. It might. It shouldn't, but to think that the people we call our heroes, but are actually a lying bunch of hoodlums, scoundrels and crooks, would be plotting the decimation of the world's finest democracy doesn't take much of a stretch of credulity.

There are things you and I can do before the situation gets much worse. I'll be discussing them in future posts as we wend our way through this sad, messy chapter of American history. But, just for starters, two things that won't work are: 1. leaving the country; 2. Staying put in a job you hate that doesn't pay you what you're worth.

The first doesn't work because other countries are in just as bad, if not worse, conditions than ours, and the second doesn't make any sense, right from Jump Street. Why anyone would want to waste their time on the planet toiling for people they don't like in a job they hate is beyond me. It sounds so masochistic. For a real solution, try watching the movie "Fight Club" until you either puke from disgust or actually come to an understanding of the deeper, hidden message in that film. Or, if you just need a good regurgitation, read Camus' "Nausea." I've heard it's even better in French.

As for the markets, the place people go when they wish to flush money away, stocks were generally weak and going nowhere. The daily movements of the stock market really don't stack up to a hill of fried chicken anymore, so thick is the distrust of counter-parties. Nobody really wants to be left holding the bag, and some estimates suggest that 40% of all trading is done by insiders, with insiders, and most of them work at Goldman Sachs. Funny, they say the same thing about betting on horses. 40% of all the action is carried out by owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms and even stewards. So, how are you supposed to win at that game? You're not. Get it?

Dow 10,270.55, -26.30 (0.26%)
NASDAQ 2,190.91, +0.85 (0.04%)
S&P 500 1,097.28, -6.04 (0.55%)
NYSE Composite 7,042.62, -58.82 (0.83%)

Losers beat gainers, 3910-2504. New highs beat new lows, 172-57, mostly due to the fact that at this time last year, stocks were falling faster than meteors from 13 miles above ground. Volume? Well, it absolutely sucked, just as it has for most of this miracle rally period since last March. With insiders trading mostly with insiders, what do you expect? There are fewer and fewer people willing to put money at risk every day. If you ave a 401k or other retirement plan, they're playing with your money, too. Isn't that a thought that makes you sleep well at night? If you're getting the idea that I'm just a little bit soured on the stock market and the general economy, you're beginning to get the message. However, unlike you, I'm fighting back. I've done some things to protect myself and eventually prosper from the obvious deflation that's been in place since the latter months of 2007.

NYSE Volume 4,917,465,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,341,595,500

Commodities were also weak. Oil, gold and silver were all lower. All the quotes I'm getting are different, depending on the source, so, for now, I'm not quoting specific prices, which is just what the market makers want: confusion. Haven't you ever wondered why currencies are so difficult to figure? The quotes most commonly used are Dollar:Yen, Euro:Dollar, Pound:Dollar. The Euro and Pound prices are inverted from the Yen, making comparisons and the real value of the dollar difficult, if not impossible, to decipher. It's a very confusing breakdown, but nobody cares to fix it? Why? Because it is confusing. Precisely.

According to Robert Prechter of the Elliott Wave, "a deflationary crash is characterized in part by a persistent, sustained, deep, general decline in people's desire and ability to lend and borrow. A depression is characterized in part by a persistent, sustained, deep general decline in production." (Conquer the Crash, Chapter 9)

Both of those conditions have been in place and at work since August, 2007. Efforts by the Fed, Treasury and the brilliant geniuses who troll Wall Street looking for suckers with money to forestall the inevitable have only lengthened the duration of the decline, then and now. Conditions seem to change with each month, quarter, economic or jobs report, but not much. Government statistics are so mangled that they no longer make sense or can be used as a true yardstick of economic vitality or disease.

We are in the throes of the worst depression the country has ever seen, kept afloat by federal payments to states, states to cites and so on, and by unemployment benefits, medicare transfers, retirement benefits, Social Security payments, and other seamless, unseen transfers of money like TARP, TALF, HAMP and other Federal Reserve machinations. Unemployment keeps rising, people keep losing their homes and most of us just go about their business as if things were normal.

Things are far from normal.

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