*** US economy on borrowed money and borrowed time. And
time is running out... $4.1 TRILLION lost so far...
*** A 'supply side' recession - for the first time in more
than 50 years...
*** Fools and Knaves...Japan sinks...and trouble in the
*** Good grief! It's already March 5th...the Ides of March
will be upon us soon. And then, spring. Yet another
season...with warm rain stirring dull roots...
*** There's never enough time. "It's a cosmic problem,"
Doug Casey advised me recently. "We have less and less of
it every day." Yes, every day we become older than we'd
like to be...but not as old as we hope to get.
*** Time seems to be running out for the Great Bull Market
and Credit Bubble of the Late 20th Century. Larry Ellison
admitted that earnings at Oracle were likely to decline 20%
in the 3rd quarter. Investors knocked the stock down 21% at
the end of last week. Rival MSFT was discounted 5%.
*** Ellison must have seen bad news coming. He sold $1
billion of his own stock back in January.
*** GE fell 3% on Friday.
*** The Dow ended Friday up 16 points. The Nasdaq ended
down 65 points, bringing the market to a 58% loss from its
high of last year. Internets - as measured by TheStreet.com
- fell 8% last week. Telecoms listed on Nasdaq fell 6%.
*** Even after getting more than cut in half, MSFT's price
still equals more than 30 times last year's earnings. The
Dow has an average P/E over 20.
*** Guess how much money has been lost in stocks since last
year at this time? Alan Abelson, in Barron's, puts the
figure at $4.1 trillion, or about 40% of the entire GDP.
Hmmm...that's about $40,000 per family. Can Americans
afford to lose that much? I guess so...it was only paper
*** The average tech fund is down 56%.
*** Now that the bear market has moved into the
'acceptance' stage, people are beginning to scout around
and consider the alternatives. "US stock funds see record
outflow," says a headline on CBS Market Watch. $13 billion
left equity funds last month.
*** On the other hand, Mr. Bear can be counted upon to
provide hopeful investors with reasons to think the worst
is over. Many people will be tempted to buy stocks like
MSFT and Intel at today's 'bargain' prices...expecting a
new bull market to erase the losses of the last 12 months.
*** But "no bull market ever started with the Dow selling
at 21 times earnings," writes Dow Theorist Richard Russell.
*** "The expectation of compounding earnings growth has run
smack into the realities of the business cycle," says Kevin
Klombies of Intermarket Relationships. "Excessive valuation
levels [in techs] are not some evil plot designed by the
rich to fleece the poor, but rather a signal that the
markets have discovered an opportunity for growth and are
willing to provide capital for free. The problem was... and
is... that so much capital was funneled into this sector
that the inevitable overbuilding was... inevitable. The sky
high prices afforded to tech and telecom shares through the
past number of years could never - and will never - be
*** After a fool and his money are parted, can a knave get
it back for him? The Wall Street Journal reports that
lawyers have filed suit against Merrill Lynch on behalf of
a doctor who held onto his tech shares based on Henry
Blodgett's "buy" recommendation. The case will go to
*** "Americans are living in a financial fantasy," said a
spokesman for Northwestern Mutual, which sponsored a study
of retirement financing. Those surveyed planned to retire
at 61, the study found, but few had figured out how they
were going to pay for it.
*** You may remember, Japan lowered its interest rates to
0.25% last week. Did it set off a new bull market? Nope.
Stocks fell to a near 16-year low. "Investors dismiss
Japanese rate cut and dump techs," says an International
Herald Tribune headline.
*** The Japanese slump - which began 11 years ago - has
resisted all cures...both fiscal and monetary. And
now..."what if the near-universal faith in the power of the
central bank [in the U.S.] to stimulate demand proves
misplaced?" asks the Financial Times. "What if there is
something different about this turn-of-the-century economic
cycle that may limit the ability of monetary policy to
produce the desired response?"
*** The FT goes on to point out (as Dr. Richebacher has
already) that not all downturns are alike. Typically, the
post-war pattern has been for "overheating" to produce
higher inflation rates, which the central bank then stifles
with higher interest rates, which produce the downturn. But
this time, there was little inflation. Why? Because it is a
"supply side" recession...more like the recession in Japan
of the last 11 years...or the one that followed the '29
crash in America. It is marked by too much capacity, which
helps keep prices down.
*** For the first time in more than 50 years," says the FT,
"the U.S. is experiencing a downturn against a background
of suppressed inflation. And just as the Fed's role in
producing this period of weakness was relatively limited...
so it may also be not much more than a bit player in
determining how quickly it ends."
*** All the discussion, debate and whining about whether
the Fed is going to raise or lower interest rates - upon
which the entire nation turns its attention as if it were
the Second Coming...and Alan Greenspan the Messiah - is
probably nothing more than a sideshow. Higher rates didn't
cause the collapse of the Nasdaq. Lower rates won't bring
*** Mr. Deshais needed a drink on Saturday. "They're
closing the markets...We have to go out right away and buy
our pigs...or we won't be able to." Three cases of possible
hoof and mouth disease have been discovered in Europe. The
farmers are in a panic. More below...
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We've been suffering through one of Mr. Deshais's periodic
bouts of sobriety.
Unfortunately, these episodes seem to be occurring more
frequently and lasting longer.
"Mr. Bonner," he said to me on Saturday, as Benoit and I
were working on the stone wall. "We have to do something
right away. Haven't you heard about it? The entire food
chain is in danger. They're closing the markets."
The gardener was referring to the outbreak of an epizootic
that has panicked farmers throughout Britain... and now the
continent. In Britain, entire herds of sheep and other
cloven-footed animals are being slaughtered - their bodies
doused with gasoline and set on fire.
Borders have been sealed to prevent the virus from
infecting herds here in France...still, three cases
suspected to be hoof and mouth disease have been reported
in Europe - one in Denmark, one in Belgium and one here in
At the end of last week, French officials banned all live
animal markets - such as the one at Les Herolles, nearby,
where we were going to buy our pigs. We will have to find
our animals elsewhere.
There is something comforting about being surrounded by
live, edible animals. They represent a form of savings.
Unlike dollars or euros, they are a store of value that can
be - barring some unforeseen calamity - consumed as needed.
As society advances, fewer and fewer people have savings in
this form - or any other. Collectively, we rely on the
market system to produce the items we need, from inventory,
just in time. And we count on the value of our money to
make the purchase.
Usually, things work as we expect. But not always. Human
history - at least the entertaining part - is a record of
things not quite working as expected...wars, natural
disasters, plagues, revolutions, depressions, panics, mass
It is widely believed, dear reader, that we have reached an
Age of Perfection, where these things no longer happen. And
"We seem to have our collective foot slammed on the
world's accelerator pedal," writes Mr. Thomas Homer-Dixon
in the Financial Times (reprised by Marc Faber in his
Gloom, Boom and Doom Report).
"It is time to think creatively about how we can slow
things down, how we can ease up a bit on that accelerator
pedal," he continues. "Some skeptics may respond that
people have always perceived they live on the cusp of chaos
but in the end have usually managed well by marshalling
their ingenuity and courage.
"But today's world is fundamentally different from that of
the past. The complexity and speed of our social and
technological systems are unlike anything we have seen
before and these factors are now pushing against the upper
limit of the human brain's abilities...[and] have surged
ahead of our capacity to manage them.
"If we allow the complexity and speed of the system we have
created to go on increasingly unchecked and if we continue
to perturb the deepest dynamics of our planet's ecosystems,
the systems will sometime fail. In other words, non-
linearities will simplify and slow things down for us,
whether we like it or not."
Modern economies seem to make it unnecessary and
inefficient to have turkeys and geese wandering around the
yard - as we do. But it settles my nerves, knowing that -
if ever my worst fears are justified, and the whole world
economy goes to hell in a handcart - at least I will eat
"Fortunately, we have plenty to eat here," Mr. Deshais
explained. And it is true. For lunch, my mother prepared a
puree of pumpkin, leeks, stewed tomatoes and fried potatoes
which we ate with sausage, salad and a goose pate. The only
part of the meal that was not a product of our garden and
henhouse was the sausage.
But that is an omission we intend to correct.
"We've got to get the pigs right away, so we'll be
protected," he continued.
When he is in his cups, Mr. Deshais is a mess. But he is
relaxed and friendly, and still manages to keep the garden
in impeccable order.
A little more than a year ago, however, he was out drinking
with a friend...who had a bad auto accident driving himself
home. (Our gardener had his own driver's license taken away
by the gendarmes well before this incident.) The friend
died, for which Mr. Deshais holds himself partially to
(The friend, by the way, left a widow with an immense
chateau...to which I will return in future letters.)
About that same time...Mr. Deshais's family had had enough
of him and threw him out. At least for a while, he was
reduced to sleeping in a tiny travel trailer parked in the
middle of a field.
Under the combined pressure of guilt and inconvenience, our
gardener decided to give temperance a try.
But he is a different man when he is sober. He is nervous,
and worries about a breakdown in the division of labor.
"Worries" is not exactly the right word...for Mr. Deshais
would greet an economic disaster in the same spirit a duck
welcomes a rainstorm, or a fire-and-brimstone preacher
might welcome an earthquake. "See, I told you so..." I can
almost hear him say.
Some people look upon innovators as though they were the
salvation of the world, and think that every new thing is
progress. To these people, each passing year brings the
world closer to perfection
But there are other people who would like nothing better
than see innovators fall flat on their faces and consider
new things to be the Devil's Own Work.
Mr. Deshais drifts to this latter side of the spectrum like
a compass needle to the magnetic north.
"We have no idea what is in the food you buy at the store,"
he explains. "With this genetic modification...and all the
chemicals they use....no, no, no...I won't eat that stuff.
You have to produce it yourself - locally, the way they
always did, so you know it is good."
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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
Published By Tulips and Bears