Economic Collapse in September?
A rumor is swirling around the Internet that an inglorious end to the U.S. economy is imminent. Unlike previous rumors to this effect, this one carries the weight of recent events in the financial realm and has many believing the rumor will come to pass.
Let's examine some of the claims being made: On March 18, 2008, a "closed door" session of Congress was held for only the fourth time in history. According to House Rule XVII, clause 9, it is forbidden for members of the U.S. House of Representatives to reveal the discussions held behind those doors. The penalty for leaking such information includes loss of seniority, fines, reprimand, censure or expulsion. According to news sources, one purpose of the meetings was to discuss new surveillance techniques to be used by U.S. Homeland Security. Rumors continue to swirl as to what the other topics of discussion took place in that meeting.
According to the Australia.TO newspaper, as reported in the May 2008 Last Trumpet Newsletter (LTM), several congressmen were so incensed about what was discussed behind those doors that they were compelled to leak the contents of the meeting. Following is what is rumored to have been discussed: Imminent collapse of the U.S. economy by September 2008; imminent collapse of the U.S. Government finances by February 2009; possibility of civil war within the U.S. resulting from the collapse; detainment of "insurgent U.S. citizens" in anticipation of their moving against the government; the potential for violent action taken by citizens against members of Congress due to the collapses; the merger of the U.S. economy with those of Canada and Mexico as a solution to the collapse; the introduction of a new tri-national currency called the "AMERO" as another economic solution.
Needless to say, that's a lot of information to process. Unfortunately none of it can be verified and it essentially falls under the category of rumor and as such must be treated as suspect. It brings to mind another rumor that had the Internet community abuzz last September regarding the so-called "Bin Laden options trade." You may recall the rumors that circulated across many Internet sites in Sept. 2007. The rumors concerned an unknown trader(s) placing options bets on the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Eurostoxx50 index that wouldn't pay off unless a 25%+ crash occurred by options expiration that same month. These high-profile "mystery" trades were used by several independent and mainstream media outlets to conjure up images of another 9/11-type terrorist episode.
The end result was that the stock market rallied sharply shortly after the stories appeared and several indices made new all-time highs in October. The terrorist event that was conjured up by the options trade never came to pass.
Now before you dismiss me as a Pollyanna, let me say that there does ring a certain measure of truth to the rumor concerning an economic collapse. There wouldn't be as much fear generated over the headlines, nor would they be as widely circulated as they have been, if there wasn't. The fact that many people even consider these stories as being potentially true is revealing of the mindset of Americans today: they are nervous about the economy, scared over high oil and gas prices and none too happy over the housing price deflation. So we can imagine how easily someone might be swayed by a rumor of this magnitude. More than anything else, the rumors of an imminent financial and economic collapse are symptomatic of a wounded mass psyche.
The next consideration is that even if the substance of the rumor is untrue (to say nothing of the projected timeline), the fact that many are inclined to believe it doesn't reflect well, nor does it bode well, for the government. When rumors like this one begin to spread, and are believed even in part, it is a vote of no confidence for the government and monetary authorities. While such problems can be remedied with short term solutions, the longer term implications are disturbing and are much harder to remedy.
The Fed may well have dodged the bullet this time but in so doing it has created for itself a new set of difficulties down the road. Those challenges can only be viewed properly through the lens of the long-term Kress cycles. Quoting Machiavelli, "It is in the nature of things that you can never escape one setback without running into another."
In the here and now, consumers are feeling the weight of high gas and food prices. An article appeared in the May 14 edition of the Washington Post bearing the headline: "Burdened by the weight of inflation, standards of living are challenged." The article reported the results of a Washington Post/ABC News poll which surveyed households across the socio-economic spectrum.
The poll found that nearly 7 in 10 are concerned with their ability to keep up their lifestyles high. Moreover, those expressing concern are not only from the lower and middle classes but also from upper income levels. The results showed a significant spike in just the last five months when a previous poll was taken. The Post reported that anxiety over the economy is at its highest level since 1981.
The poll found that 40% of respondents are "somewhat worried" about their standard of living, compared to 34% in December 2007. Of those saying they are "very worried", the number is 28% compared to 17% in December. The combined totals for these worried responses equals 51% in December compared to 68% today.
Among other findings of the poll is that the top five economic worries among consumers are:
- Healthcare costs
The Post also asked respondents to give their reasons why they think oil and gas prices are as high as they are today. The top responses were:
- Greed/profit motive of the oil companies
- Iraq war
- George Bush
With nationwide gas prices hovering precariously close to $4.00/gallon, the poll found that many respondents had already cut back on their driving habits and were more inclined to use public transportation. Of those who haven't cut back on their driving, the poll asked what the gas price would have to be to make them drive less. The average response was $5.65/gallon.
How have the authorities responded to the problems that Americans are now facing? The Congresses' response to the economic malaise has been the approval of a "tax relief" bill which provides a few paltry hundreds for the purpose of stimulating the retail economy. But will this measure succeed in winning a vote of confidence from the people?
Let's turn once again to the wisdom of the one of Machiavelli for the answer. Machiavelli, in his Discourses on Livy, wrote that "no ruler should...wait for dangerous times in order to win over the populace." He stated further that "in the eyes of the populace, it will not be that ruler who grants them their new benefits, but his enemy, and they will have every reason to fear that once the adversity has passed, their ruler will take back what he was forced to give. Consequently, the populace will not feel bound to him in any way."
Since the announcement that $600 checks would be mailed to taxpayers in the form of "relief", we've heard nothing but criticism from the taxpayers. The remarks range from, "Bush is borrowing the money from Red China," to "we'll have to pay it all back in next year's taxes," to "$600 won't cover my expenses for even a month!"
As Machiavelli informs us in his Discourses, a government "must try to foresee what adversity might befall it, and that a government "which acts otherwise...and then believes that during perilous times it can win back the populace with benefits is deceiving itself. Not only will [it] not win over the populace, but it will bring about its own ruin."
To this end, an article appearing in the May 14 edition of the Financial Times addressed the evolving monetary policy of the Federal Reserve in dealing with asset "bubbles." The old-line method employed by former Fed Chief Greenspan was to wait for the bubble to burst, then belatedly attack the problem. Of this unwise policy we have only to consult Machiavelli...or simply look at the results of Greenspan's many policy blunders in recent years.
In the wake of the latest blunders, the Bernanke-led Fed is examining the role the Fed should play in lancing asset price bubbles before they burst. How successful the Fed will be in implementing its new strategy remains to be seen. With time running out on the 120-year cycle clock, the economic winds are not against their back as was the case in the 1990s.
To that end, beginning sometime around the summer of 2009, we'll be entering a period that not a single one of us has ever experienced before. The last of the Kress long-term cycles peaks at that time, namely the 10-year cycle. From that point until 2014 there won't be any yearly cycle of long-term consequence in the ascending phase, a configuration that hasn't been seen since the 1890s. The 120-year Master Cycle will be in its final "hard down" phase and the government along with the monetary authorities will be confronted with many challenges and obstacles.
It's very easy, though, to get wrapped up in the fear that anticipating this coming event will bring. Fear is paralyzing and causes us to miss opportunities we might otherwise recognize were we not under its grip. As Jesus said, "Sufficient until the day is the evil thereof." Let's not get caught in the trap of constantly fearing the problems of the years to come when we have today to concern ourselves with.
Let's turn now to the present stock market outlook. In my April 24 commentary entitled, "At last, good news is on the way!", I pointed out that "beneath the surface of this stock market, things are improving more and more each week. It won't be long now before eventually those individual stock prices start moving higher in response to the market's internal improvement." This statement was a reference to the dramatic improvement in the stock market's internal momentum indicators, which show the 30-day, 90-day and 120-day internal rate of change for the NYSE broad market. These indicators are in turn reflections of the dominant interim cycles.
Since then the stock market has been in recovery mode with the S&P 400 Mid-cap index (MID) showing the most impressive rally of the major indices. Take a look at the progression of the mid-cap stocks since the March price bottom. The Mid-cap index is now at a high for the year and has completely recovered the damage inflicted by the sell-off in December-January. Besides being a good barometer of the corporate outlook, the MID is also a good leading indicator for the S&P 500.
The stock market continues its upward bias in spite of a lack of broad participation from sidelined investors. The rally up until now has been of the "phantom" variety in the sense that few have participated in it. Billions of dollars in cash remains in low-yielding money market and other "safe haven" funds as the crowd demands more proof of recovery before jumping back into the stock market. This speaks to the paralyzing fear that has many investors in its grip. By looking at the cycles, however, we don't have to be controlled by fear. Instead, we can put fear aside and take advantage of the opportunities the market hands to us along the way in this once-in-a-lifetime adventure on the road to the 120-year cycle.