Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Apocalypse Now?

When MarketWatch highlights the following by a leading columnist, there is evidence that too many people are expecting the worst. Paul Farrell, in How to invest for a global-debt-bomb explosion; Prepare for an apocalyptic anarchy ending Wall Street's toxic capitalism, says:

Wake up investors. Are you prepared for the economic anarchy coming after a global-debt time bomb explodes? Are you thinking outside the box? Investing differently? Act now -- tomorrow will be too late.

He goes on in this vein for two electronic pages, without modulation. His preferred solution is that the reader become filthy rich and purchase a defensible ranch in Idaho, to guard against marauding revolutionaries and starving peasants.

Thirty years ago, near the bottom of the financial markets and after a miserable decade for the economy, one heard the same predictions from intelligent people. And the severe recession of 1981-2 lay ahead. Surprisingly, that recession was not accompanied by anywhere near the same stock market damage as the 1973-5 one or the 2001 recession. Perhaps that was because people were already scared silly. (Now, I do not feel that financial markets are underpriced as I felt in1982. But the psychology of the public is much more realistic than it was 2, 5 and 10 years ago. That's a start.)

The more the mainstream media turn the problem of too much debt--which can always be renegotiated--into a prediction for apocalypse, the greater the chances that a muddle-through scenario may not be fully priced into the markets. After all, how many investors and speculators are left to learn that the government has massive unfunded liabilities and is living hand to mouth due to the kindness of Asian strangers who keep us going by purchasing our toxic debt (allegedly)?

At a certain point, markets "know" these things.

When Massachusetts provides the 41st Senate vote against compulsory national health insurance, then the facts on the ground and innumerable public opinion polls suggest that Americans are demanding that the country work toward a consensus. People know that there are big problems. But anarchy? Even Argentina, with its multiple international debt defaults, has held together.

Throughout our history, "Big" business has achieved ascendancy that has always proven temporary.

I anticipate that Big Finance (against which Mr. Farrell rails) will, sooner rather than later, be seen as unthreatening as Big Rail became a hundred and more years ago.

Objectively, apocaplypse will involve nuclear devastation, massive droughts, pestilence, armed invasion by a hostile power, etc. Debt restructurings do not destroy productive capacity and while the U. S. is on the wrong path of accumulating more and more debt, there are limits to how much damage is likely to occur from the consequences of that debt. Malinvestment has already occurred and the cleanup is occurring.

The world will keep spinning, farmers will keep farming, homebuilders will keep building, supply and demand forces will keep working, and most likely Mr. Farrell will regret having taken such an extreme position.

I hope.

Copyright (C) Long Lake LLC 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment