Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Consumption Bust

Frederick J. Sheehan is the author of Panderer to Power: The Untold Story of How Alan Greenspan Enriched Wall Street and Left a Legacy of Recession (McGraw-Hill, 2009) and "The Coming Collapse of the Municipal Bond Market" (Aucontrarian.com, 2009)

There is no end to the indicators showing the consumer is up against it. Negative home-equity, incomes, layoffs, food inflation - oh, this is a tale of woe. And so, the plaintive cry: "Is this the bottom?" That seems doubtful, actually impossible, given the math.

There will be no addition or subtraction here, but an observation. The bottom - for stocks and people - does not follow a panic. An example is the stock market bottom in March 2009. After a panic (stocks) or a spree (spending), a long period of lethargy and revulsion follow. Then the juices flow again.

The government preempted this cycle after the Internet crash, mortgage bust, and with its stock market boost in March 2009. From there, the S&P 500 doubled. That was fun for some, but it defied nature. Wither QE3?, is the question of the hour. For those who are hopeful the Fed will leave us alone, there are signs the cycle is drifting towards recovery. That is - the requisite period of lethargy is upon us.

The following comes by way of my youngest sister, last seen playing Old Maid at the age of four (Playing Old Maid); now, doing her part to keep America alive, by shopping.

She called me after leaving Target, a go get'em retail chain fulfilling its patriotic duty: It sold $67 billion of paraphernalia last year. My sister's exit conversation follows:

Target cashier
: "Did you find everything you wanted?"

: "No."

Target Cashier
: "That's OK. You saved some money."