*** Will Dollars Get Dumped? Alan Greenspan's worst
*** Going nowhere...Bezos sells shares...Americans living
'from paycheck to paycheck'...and more...
*** What happened to Mr. Bear, I asked last week?
*** Our furry friend returned to Wall Street to maul the big
techs and a few other favorites. Cisco, for example,
dropped down to $25. Sun sank below the $20 horizon. And
EMC, long considered safe, lost $6.32.
*** The Dow fell 206 points - bringing the index down 3% in
the first three days of the week. 1073 stocks advanced on
the NYSE; 2024 declined.
*** The Nasdaq 100 has suffered even greater damage this
week - falling 7%. And the Internets, as measured by
TheSreet.com, have dropped 8%.
*** Gold stocks have gone nowhere. But nowhere is at least
the right direction when everything else is going down.
*** For all the sound and fury, stock market investors have
little to show for the last two years. Neither the Dow nor
the Nasdaq have made the slightest progress.
*** IBM lost 4% yesterday, Walmart got discounted 6%, and
investors decided to do it themselves with Home Depot -
knocking 7% off the price.
*** Home Deport is adding 22.5 million sq. ft. of retail
space this year, according to a Merrill Lynch report. "Even
after the stock market starts its descent," predicted
Michael Mandel in his book, "The Coming Internet
Depression, "there will be a substantial lag before it hits
the economy. ... The loss of stock market wealth may also
take quite a while to pull down consumer spending...."
*** The stock market action was blamed on an unexpectedly
bad CPI number - 0.6% increase in consumer prices for the
month of January, rather than the anticipated 0.3%.
*** Like the PPI number last week, this could be a fluke.
But for the moment, both CPI and PPI are singing the same
song, which goes something like the 1920s classic: "I'm
forever blowing [up] bubbles..."
*** "Now that you're seeing inflation in both the CPI and
PPI...how long will it be before foreigners start to bail
on the dollar," asks Dan Denning. "The Fed keeps cutting
rates to prop up the markets. But what does that do? Just
makes more dollars...and each new dollar makes all the
others worth less. So, lower interest rates discourage
ownership of U.S. treasuries, lower stock prices discourage
foreign ownership of U.S. stocks, and higher inflation
gives everyone an incentive to get rid of their dollars
that much more quickly."
*** On the heels of the CPI number, the Commerce department
also announced America's trade imbalance rose to a record
high of $369.7 billion last year ... up nearly 40% from
1999. "America suffered the biggest shortfall with China,"
reports AP, "a record imbalance of $83.8 billion, 22
percent higher than in 1999. The deficit with Japan, which
for decades has been the front-runner, also set a record at
$81.3 billion, an increase of 10.8 percent over the 1999
"Look at these trade debt numbers," Denning continues,
"...if foreigners decide they'd rather own euros than
dollars...look out below."
*** Yes, look out below, dear reader, the CPI number is
just about Alan Greenspan's worst nightmare. As long as
inflation number remains low, he and his merry band of
currency destroyers at the Fed think they can lower
interest rates at will, in order to get the economy moving.
Now they have to worry that lower rates, at a time of
rising CPI numbers, will cause people to dump dollars.
*** Bill Fleckenstein: "It's interesting that all of a sudden
these numbers have gotten worse now that new folks are in
charge of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). I'm sure
that's just a coincidence though." (see: News Sellers
Outsell Rumor Buyers)
*** How will Americans make it through a financial crisis?
Not very well. AP reports that the median net financial
assets for U.S. households is just $9,850. "The 'typical'
U.S. household has net financial assets, including
retirement savings, of less than $10,000," said the report,
"and many families lost wealth in the late 1990s as
consumer debt increased." Fifty-three percent of households
surveyed by the Consumer Federation said they lived
"paycheck to paycheck."
*** John Myers, our man on the scene in Calgary notes: "The
buzz among oilmen in North America is that the Middle East
is a powder keg; there could be a supply crunch that will
lead G7 nations to begin a new round of developing domestic
energy sources. How does this translate to profits? More
money will flow into the development of oil and gas in the
relatively virgin pools of Alberta and Saskatchewan."
*** "Before leaving office, Clinton did more than just
secure pardons for everyone on his and Hillary's Christmas
card list," Myers also writes, keeping an eye on the
'crisis' in the West. "He issued an order that seemed more
in keeping with the old Kremlin than the White House:
natural gas and electricity suppliers must continue to ship
to California regardless of whether their utility customers
can pay. Clinton's Energy Secretary, Bill Richardson,
placed the order, citing it in the interest of 'national
defense.' National defense! Who are they kidding? Bush' man
Hebert extended the order" (see: Depression Era Big Government
in Force in California)
*** Amazon, our favorite 'River of No Returns' stock has
now fallen 88% from its peak 14 months ago. But Bezos says
"the company has never been in better shape." Analyst Ravi
Suria figures that Amazon will spend $130 million on debt
service this year, $120 million on capital expenses, and
$50 million on restructuring. In addition, it will lose
$140 million on operations. Taken together, these expenses
add up to $50 million more than the company has available.
*** Bezos sold $55 million of his own shares in the last
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"Almost everything that's supposed to be 'new' about the
New Economy has happened before."
Yesterday marked the anniversary of one of the biggest,
most costly, and most pointless battles of human history.
The siege of Verdun was begun in February, 1916, and lasted
until the following December. When it was over 300,000 men
had died...but to no apparent purpose. Neither side had
gained an advantage.
People make mistakes. Then they gradually learn and stop
making them. Then, they make them again...or new ones.
WWI is commonly blamed on big abstract ideas -
nationalization, militarization, mechanization. We learn
the words in history class, but they give us little clue
about why people would engage in such suicidal absurdities.
The Great Depression, too, has been blamed on bad ideas.
"Official dependence on outdated cliches - such as
maintaining the gold standard..." was how one financial
historian put it.
"The Great Depression," explains Michael Mandel, "was
marked by a rolling deflation, in which country after
country jacked up interest rates in order to staunch the
outflow of its gold. In each country the central bankers
thought they were doing the right thing. And perhaps
individually, they were. But collectively, they brought on
a collapse in the global economy."
Yesterday's CPI reminds us that today's central bankers
have plenty of opportunity to make mistakes too. The bond
vigilantes may be taking a siesta, but there are plenty of
investors and money managers all over the world who are wide
awake. Inflation and falling Fed funds rates may signal to
them that it is time to take their money elsewhere.
"Most of the wealth effect," Mandel wrote last year, "and
the shopping spree that goes along with it, is due
primarily to the soaring price of technology stocks.
"From the second quarter of 1999 to the second quarter of
2000," he writes, "the tech sector, including the telephone
companies, was responsible for all the increase in market
value of the S&P 500. That's despite the fall of the
Internet stocks in early 2000.
"Looking back a bit farther, between the middle of 1995 and
the middle of 2000, about 45% of the rise in the market
value of the S&P 500 came from the tech sector. Just four
companies - Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, and America Online -
were responsible for more than a $1 trillion increase in
the market value over that five-year period."
In the last 2 years of that boom, at least 20% of the rise
in market valuations was thanks to investment from
We are now witnessing a correction of the boom in big tech.
Since Mandel wrote, more than a trillion dollars has been
taken out of tech valuations.
"The closest historical precedent," he elaborates, "is the
behavior of auto sales and stocks in the months before the
crash of '29. The automobile industry of the 1920s was the
equivalent of today's high-tech sector..."
Auto stocks peaked in March of '29 and fell 15% by
September. "Investors reacted to the drop in auto stocks by
shifting into other stocks," Mandel tells us, "what [they]
did not realize, however, was that the fallout in auto
sales and auto stocks was a sign that the leading sector of
the economy, the one that had driven growth, was
Mandel thinks he sees something new about the New Economy.
Funding for technological innovation has moved from private
tinkers, university labs and corporate R&D budgets to the
capital markets. Since the IPO of Netscape in 1995, he
says, it has been a New Era. Wall Street has vastly
increased the availability of capital to new technology.
Innovation has been securitized.
This might be a good thing. It promises to greatly increase
the rate of innovation, which Mandel believes also
increases the rate of economic growth. But it comes at a
price...technological improvements, upon which economic
growth depends, are now subject to the boom/bust cycles of
the markets themselves.
And just as the upswing of the new tech cycle takes the
economy further and lasts longer than the cycles of the
industrial age, so might the downswings, Mandel argues.
Even without the gold standard, central bankers can find
themselves in similar trap. Mandel explains: "The Fed may
face a no-win choice if the economy heads into a tech
downcycle. Cutting interest rates to boost the economy
makes the dollar less attractive to foreign investors, and
only accelerates the outflow of money."
Economists John Eatwell and Lance Taylor, authors of "Global
Finance at Risk," add:
"the potential disequilibria - portfolio shifts away from
the U.S., bigger international obligations on its debt, and
growing financial stress on the household sector - could
begin to feed on one another and on the views of the
markets. At that point...all hopes for global macro
stability could disappear."
Mandel is a Christopher Columbus of an economist. He has
run aground on something big...but he doesn't know what it
is. His maps show little of the new world into whose waters
he has drifted.
So here, dear reader, I will try to fill in the missing
Your Magellan of the markets...
For investment ideas and insights consistent with those you read
in the Daily Reckoning please visit: http://www.dailyreckoning.com
If it isn't obvious to you, the crazy bull market in tech
stocks is over.
That's why there's never been a better time to start
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Bill Bonner is,
in spite of himself, a natural born contrarian. Early each morning, Bill
writes The Daily
Reckoninghis take on the financial markets and whats going
on in the worldand sends it off by e-mail before most Americans
alarm clocks have buzzed. Many readers say it's the first thing they want
to read when they get upnot only because it's informative and thought
provoking, but also it's inspiring, in its own quirky and provocative way.
Of course, there's
much more to Bill than his daily market commentary. He's also the founder
and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful
consumer newsletter publishing companies. Bill's passion for international
travel and big ideas are reflected in the company he's successfully built.
In 1979, he began publishing International Living and Hulbert's
Financial Digest . Since then, the company has grown to include
dozens of newsletters focusing on health, travel, and finance. Bill has
vigorously expanded from Agora's home base in Baltimore, Maryland since
the early 90sopening offices in Florida, London, Paris, Ireland, and
subsidiaries include Pickering
& Chatto, a prestigious academic press in London and Les
Belles Lettres in Paris, best known as a publisher of classical
literature in bilingual editions.
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Last modified: April 01, 2001
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