Hurricane Katrina and the Economy
Has there ever been a more storm-tossed and natural disaster-prone time as there is now? The question may seem debatable on its surface, but statistics actually show the question can be answered in the negative.
In less than a one-year period we've already witnessed a series of devastating water-related disasters. Starting with last year's horrendous Florida hurricanes and followed closely by the Tsunami that struck south Asia in December last year, we have truly witnessed disasters have biblical proportions.
Naturally, the talk after the most recent disaster to strike New Orleans has centered on what the most likely impact will be on the economy. This perhaps a rather vulgar consideration in view of the tremendous loss of life and property, but such is the nature of the popular press. And just what is the consensus among experts on Katrina's most likely economic effects? Mostly positive from what I can tell. The commentators that are paraded daily before us on financial television and the newspapers seem mostly agreed that the U.S. economy will "shrug off" the effects and eventually return to normal. Some have even gone so far as to predict that Katrina will in some ways stimulate the economy. But we have a guide post from the previous storms in the past year that provide us with some valuable clues as to how the economy will likely respond to Katrina (and any additional weather-related disasters along the way).
Before looking at these possibilities, let's first consider the larger import of the storm-tossed world that we're increasingly subject to. In their seminal work from 1975, "Climate and the Affairs of Men," Nels Winkless and Iben Browning (a climatologist specializing in the effects of weather on investments and the economy), predicted that the climate "will continue to be variable, with new highs, new lows, new precipitation records, droughts, big storms, and high tides."
Using his remarkable tidal forces cycles that go back 3,000 years, Browning was able to predict earthquakes and volcanic eruptions within days or even hours of their occurrence. He believed that there is a relationship between tidal forces and natural phenomena on this earth, including weather. He observed in history that during long periods of good times, with variability at a minimum, people and societies are relatively stable. But increasing variability in weather and temperature spurs mass migrations and human activity, including warfare. According to Browning, writing in 1975, the next major tidal cycle peak would be around the year 2000, with the expected accompaniment of wars, pestilence, and extreme weather phenomena. In the five years since the turn of the new millennium, we can already see the accuracy of his prediction.
Storms, earthquakes and other natural phenomena have been on the increase in recent years and have been most pronounced in just the past year. According to the World Book Encyclopedia, on average there were about 40 moderate earthquakes per year as of 1994, some eleven years ago. But when my friend David J. Meyer of the Last Trumpet Newsletter compared this with the most recent Iris Seismographic Report by the U.S. Geological Survey, he discovered the shocking statistic that between June 14 and July 13 2005, there were over 300 moderate earthquakes - all in a period of just one month!
He reports moreover that from the period beginning July 12, 2005 to August 11, 2005, there were 1,012 earthquakes, many of which were magnitude 4.0 and above. This brings to mind the words of Jesus when he warned us of the days in which there would be "earthquakes in divers places" with "the sea and waves roaring."
Just how great was the financial impact of the Tsunami of late last year on the U.S. economy? According to a survey of small business owners, the weeks and months following the disaster saw a significant decline in purchases in some sectors (seasonally adjusted), including a greater than expected decline in consumer credit. The recovery in many sectors wasn't seen until later in the spring of this year. Large funds were diverted from the economy to assist the Tsunami relief effort overseas, and added with the negative psychological impacts, it produced a dampening effect on economic activity for a while.
Now a new drain on the economy has emerged in the wake of the NOLA disaster to the tune of $100 billion (preliminary estimate). Of course the actual figure will probably be much higher, as is normal with any rebuilding project. It is my opinion that the there will be measurable longer-term impacts on the economy that can be traced to Katrina. This would be expected after a major port city of the magnitude of New Orleans has been severely damaged.
The post-Katrina talk on Wall Street is about as sanguine as it gets. Nearly everyone interviewed, it seems, see the proverbial "silver lining" in Katrina's cloud. While it's true the building sector may stand to benefit, how such enormous damage to the tune of billions of dollars can be viewed as anything less than an economic negative is beyond comprehension. Perhaps the impact wouldn't be so pronounced in the near-term were it not for the rate of change slowdown in MZM money supply, which is near a low point in the cycle. While MZM is finally showing signs of life once again, it normally takes several months before these increases in money supply are felt in the economy.
The Congressional spending and credit pumping initiative that followed close on the heels of the World Trade Center bombing of Sept. 11, 2001 was a turning point for the U.S. economy, which at the time had been mired in recession. The much-needed funds bailed out consumers and provided timely relief to many areas of business in the country. But from an economic timing standpoint, the Fed's relief efforts were helped by the fact that the dominant interim cycle was bottoming at precisely the same time as 9/11. In the case of the Florida hurricanes and the Tsunami of late 2004, it was the 10-year cycle bottom that accompanied these events. Undoubtedly, these timely cycle bottoms were propitious in softening the impact from these critical blows.
The Katrina disaster occurs at a time when we're still one year away from the 4-year/8-year cycle bottom of 2006. This is known also as the "business cycle," so it will be interesting to see how the economy holds up for the next several months until this important cycle bottoms, especially in light of the infrastructural damage inflicted by the hurricane(s).
To be fair, the WTC disaster of 2001 was also exactly one year from the nearest longer-term cycle bottom, namely the 12-year cycle that bottomed in October 2002. If anything, maybe the actions of the Fed and the response of the economy following the WTC bombing of 2001 can serve as a guide of what we can expect. While the Fed sharply reversed its policy immediately after 9/11, the overall impact didn't completely take effect until the following year when the U.S. formally emerged from the bear market that had been underway at that time. In like manner, it could mean that the U.S. can expect 6-12 months of economic softness until later in 2006 when we get closer to the 8-year cycle bottom (at which time the Fed stimulus efforts should also be felt).