Don't Bet on a Recovery
Mar 2, 2010
It is astounding how many economists, government officials, and Wall Street strategists construe the current economic conditions as evidence of a bona fide recovery. It is a testament to the power of the rose colored glasses handed out by our nation's leading universities that such a feeling could be widely held despite the clear and present danger that compounds daily. The myopia leads us to enact policies that actually exacerbate our problems. The "remedies" are postponing, perhaps indefinitely, a true recovery.
The oracles who have described the nature of this imminent recovery do so based on their conviction that consumer spending is slowly returning to levels that existed prior to the recession. New data released today seems to support this view, with consumer spending up 0.5% in January.
However, missing from their analysis is any plausible explanation as to why consumers will be able to sustain such spending given the plunge in income and credit, and the lack of available savings. In fact, the same January spending report showed that personal income increased by only 0.1%, while the savings rate slowed to the smallest since 2008.
I would challenge those who fantasize about a consumer-led recovery to describe where the spending money will come from. Most consumers are tapped out, millions are unemployed, and home equity has been wiped out. The only reasonable thing for them to do is to pay down debt and sock away as much money as possible to rebuild their savings.
Beyond the question of "how" the spending could be achieved, is the deeper question of "why" such activity should be sought at all. Excessive spending, fueled by an insane housing bubble and catalyzed by reckless monetary and fiscal policy, was the reason that our current recession became unavoidable. Why would we want to go down that road again?
During the run up to the crash, excess spending had created economic distortions that have yet to be resolved. Too many resources, including land, labor, and capital, were devoted to servicing an unsustainable economic model in which Americans borrowed money to buy homes, products and services they really could not afford. In many cases consumer behavior was influenced by overly optimistic assumptions regarding real estate related riches.
However, now that the real estate bubble has burst, Americans are coming to terms with a more sober reality. Many have cut up their credit cards, dramatically reduced their spending, and have squirreled away as much money as they can. This change in behavior should necessitate a dramatic shift in the labor market as workers move away from jobs associated with consumer spending and toward jobs associated with real production, primarily for exportable goods.
The real problem is that monetary and fiscal policy designed to re-inflate the burst spending bubble is preventing this transition from taking place. As a result we are not creating the jobs we need to replace - the ones we have lost in mortgage servicing, home improvement, and real estate sales (which we never really needed to begin with). As these jobless remain unable to find alternative employment, our economy will continue to languish.
Some will argue that the new jobs created by government stimulus spending will provide the additional purchasing power necessary to revitalize consumer spending. There are two problems with this expectation. First, those jobs being "created" by the government are outnumbered by those being destroyed by government domination of resources. Second, even if it were possible for job growth to return, having hopefully learned from their mistakes, workers will be far more frugal with their paychecks than they were in the past.
Others hope that rising real estate prices will give consumers more confidence to spend. The reality is that housing prices are still too high and will likely fall further. But even if they did rise, consumers will still be reluctant to resume their shopping spree. Home equity extraction loans, which just a few years ago turned houses into ATMs, are now much harder to come by. When it comes to spending, it's not just about confidence; it's about cash.
The only possible way consumers can spend is if the government gives them the money. However, since the government cannot legitimately give money to one American without first taking it from another, the most likely means of doling out cash will be to run it off the printing presses.
That, in a nutshell, is our government's plan for economic recovery. Print a bunch of money and give it to consumers to spend. This is not a plan for recovery but a recipe for disaster. Those betting that this program can succeed in putting together a healthy and sustainable economy simply do not understand the nature of their wager. The smart money is going the other way.
to buy Peter Schiff's best-selling, latest book, "How
an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes."
For a more in depth analysis of our financial problems and the
inherent dangers they pose for the US economy and US dollar,
you need to read Peter Schiff's 2008 bestseller "The
Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets" [buy
here] And "Crash Proof 2.0: How to Profit from the
Economic Collapse" [buy
For a look back at how Peter
Schiff predicted the current crisis, read his 2007 bestseller
"Crash Proof: How to Profit from the Coming Economic
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Mar 1, 2010
C.E.O. and Chief Global Strategist
Euro Pacific Capital, Inc.
Mr. Schiff is one of
the few non-biased investment advisors (not committed solely to
the short side of the market) to have correctly called the current
bear market before it began and to have positioned his clients
accordingly. As a result of his accurate forecasts on the U.S.
stock market, commodities, gold and the dollar, he is becoming
increasingly more renowned. He has been quoted in many of the
nation's leading newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal,
Barron's, Investor's Business Daily, The Financial Times, The
New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The
Chicago Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, The Miami Herald, The
San Francisco Chronicle, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The
Arizona Republic, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Christian
Science Monitor, and has appeared on CNBC, CNNfn., and Bloomberg.
In addition, his views are frequently quoted locally in the Orange
Mr. Schiff began his investment career as a financial consultant
with Shearson Lehman Brothers, after having earned a degree in
finance and accounting from U.C. Berkley in 1987. A financial
professional for seventeen years he joined Euro Pacific
in 1996 and has served as its President since January 2000. An
expert on money, economic theory, and international investing,
he is a highly recommended broker by many of the nation's financial
newsletters and advisory services.