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*** "US economy is close to a standstill, says the Fed"
proclaims today's Financial Times headline. The nation's
federal reserve banks reported "sluggish" or "mixed"
results in the Jan-Feb period.
*** But "Wall Street sees a turn in the market" says
another headline. Yesterday, Abby Joseph Cohen raised the
stock allocation in her model portfolio from 65 to 70
percent and slashed her recommended cash holdings to zero.
This follows similar strategic advice from Morgan Stanley
Dean Witter and Merrill Lynch earlier in the week.
*** Abbey went a little further. "The imbalances...have
been resolved," said she, adding that the Dow could hit
13,000 by the end of the year. Mr. Bear must be smirking.
*** The Fed is doing its part with rate cuts and easy
credit. "I'm going to worry about avoiding the recession,"
said Dallas Fed governor McTeer, "and we can get back to
*** Consumer credit expanded $16 billion in January, far in
excess of the $6.5 billion estimate. December's numbers were
revised upwards too - to a $7.1 billion increase, rather
than just $3 billion.
*** Consumers seem to be rising to the bait. "Chain Store
Sales Show Consumers Spending," says a headline I read a
minute ago, but whose source I have already forgotten.
According to the Redbook Average, sales grew 2.1% in Feb.
*** All this spending "suggests that people are pretty
confident about their income prospects, [and] about their
employment prospects," said another Fed governor, William
Poole of the St. Louis branch.
*** Both investors and consumers think they've seen the big
bottom. The Dow rose 138 points yesterday. The Nasdaq
managed only a 19-point increase.
*** Big Bottom or no Big Bottom...the future doesn't look so
good for stock buyers, says Richard Russell. Historically,
when the average P/E of the S&P 500 hits 22, Russell reminds
us, investors can expect a return of only 5% per year for
the next 10 years. And about a third of the average return
on stocks over the last 73 years has been from dividends.
Currently, the P/E of the S&P 500 is 24...with a dividend
yield of only 1.2%.
*** There were 1924 stocks advancing. 1163 declined.
*** The dollar moved little. Gold is reported as either
having risen $1.50 yesterday - or fallen $1.20 - depending
on your source of information.
*** More people have lost more money in Cisco than in any
other stock in history. The market value of the stock has
declined from $590 billion to just $200 billion.
*** "You can't leave the building" said a voice from
reception. Lord Rees-Mogg and I were meeting at his office
on Bloomsbury Square. We have heard the sirens wailing - but
this is nothing unusual. But when the meeting was over we
found that a bomb threat had caused police to seal off the
street in front of the building. The English have been
living with bombs and bomb threats for such a long
time...they actually seem to enjoy them, much like children
enjoy a blizzard. "I wouldn't stand in front of the
window," advised Lord Rees-Mogg as I stare out. A few
minutes later, traffic was once again moving, or rather, not
moving very much, as usual and I was able to get on with my
*** The London press was a big disappointment today. No
naughty vicars. No maudlin tales of dying children. No
missing limbs. Instead of tragedy or comedy - the media
decided to devote itself to farce: Gordon Brown's budget,
which seemed to offer something for almost everyone. Even
alcoholics got a break, as the Brown budget freezes duties
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Nothing much happens in Bremo Bluff, Virginia. I used to
drive through the town on my way down to even more remote
areas of the state. It is little more than a bend in the
road; the little town offers little in the way of diversion,
which leaves a man plenty of time to think.
Thus, with time on his hands, Bremo Bluff resident and
military historian Bevin Alexander has wondered about WWII
and how it might have turned out much differently.
What a different world it was 60 years ago.
In February of 1941, Germany had already invaded France.
Erich von Manstein had seen and understood the weakness of
the French defensive strategy. He figured out how to
outflank the French and cut off virtually the entire French
and British force encamped near the Belgian border.
The French had, on paper, the strongest army in Europe at
the time. But their tactics were 20 years out of date. It
was a new era in warfare and only a handful of military men
- mostly in the Wehrmacht, realized it.
Had the French not been such blockheads, one could argue,
the 2nd World War would never have developed as it did. The
Germans would have attacked. They would have met effective
resistance and the balance of power in Europe would have
But errors, dear reader, are inevitable. It was no more
possible for the combatants of WWII to avoid making mistakes
than it was for investors in the Great Bubble of 1995-2000.
Yesterday, Henry Blodget explained why his top
recommendations were down an average of 79%: "The market
went from saying 'we like companies that are growing quickly
but are losing a lot of money' to saying 'We want to see
earnings.' It's very hard to predict a 180-degree turn like
Some things are predictable. Who could not see that
investors would sooner or later want the companies they
owned to make money? It is also 100% predictable that people
will be blockheads.
As events happened, two generations ago, the Germans
attacked where they were not expected...and in a manner the
French had never seen. Tank commanders such as Heinz
Guderian and Erich Rommel cut through the French line and
then kept going...moving so fast and showing up in places so
far from where they were thought to be that Rommel's group
became known as the "ghost division." Not only were the
French and British forces unable to respond effectively -
they had no idea of how to respond. They did not know where
the enemy was, what he was doing, nor even why he was doing
In a few weeks, the French army collapsed. Soldiers threw
down their weapons and fled. The French government, in a
panic, saw the situation as hopeless and surrendered. The
British, along with a few remnants of the French forces,
were driven into the sea at Dunkirk.
By February of the following year, the Battle of Britain had
already been waged...with an inconclusive result. Churchill
had rallied his nation - at the last moment - and, barely,
fended off the German assault.
Rommel was in North Africa preparing his Deutsche Afrika
Corps and a series of breathtaking victories.
The German Army was preparing an invasion of Yugoslavia and
Hitler was furious with General Franco in Spain, calling him
a "Jesuit swine," after the latter resisted Hitler's
requests to allow German armies to cross Spain in order to
attack the British fortress at Gibraltar, which guarded the
Atlantic entrance to the Mediterranean. He was also furious
at various other people for various other reasons.
In 1941, the entire world map might have been regarded as a
game board - with national forces aligned, arrayed, in
motion or hors de combat such as the shifting fortunes of
the players decreed.
Life is competitive. People compete alone and in groups - in
sports, politics, fashion, sex, business and economics. In
the 1940s, nation state competition had reached a frenzy -
an episodic peak. Germany did this. Russia did that. Greece
did such and such. Britain did something else. For a few
years, almost everyone and everything in Europe was brought
into the game. A person could be conscripted into a labor
battalion, sent to the front lines in combat, or herded into
a cattle car and shipped to an extermination camp. Politics
is a game of force...played for mortal stakes.
Today, you'd have to read the business pages or the
editorial page to find a similar contests. Microsoft vs.
Oracle...Yahoo! vs. AOL...GM vs. Toyota. Nobody really cares
what Greece does. The game has moved from politics to the
market, played out no longer with political power and lethal
results...but with economic power and an outcome that is
measured in dollars and sense. The competition is no longer
a worldwide trajedy...but a comedy on a global scale.
Bevins sees the world through the eyes of a military
historian. From his roost in Bremo Bluff, Virginia, he
thinks he espies critical mistakes that change the course of
history. In this case, the mistakes were those of Adolf
You will recall that Francis Fukayama lays the miserable
history of the 20th century on the shoulders of another
German speaker - General von Kluck. Von Kluck's error in
1914 - failing to stick to the Shleiffen's plan of attack -
cost the Germans a quick and critical victory.
Bevins maintains that Hitler's first mistake was failing to
crush the British at Dunkirk, when he had the chance. The
second, and more important error, was attacking Russia in a
way that made no sense tactically or strategically.
"The attack against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941,"
Bevins writes, "is the most powerful example in the 20th
century of how a leader and a nation - in this case Adolf
Hitler and Germany - can ignore clear, eternal rules of
successful warfare, and pursue a course that leads straight
In just a few months, Hitler had put together an empire that
dominated Europe. The Germans occupied half of France. The
line of occupation in the west ran only a few miles from my
house in Poitou. From this point in central France, Germans
controlled all the territory of Europe to the center of
Poland in the east, and from Norway in the north down to the
tip of Greece and the island of Crete in the Mediterranean
(and large sections of Africa too).
But empires that rise up quickly, like bull markets, tend to
collapse quickly too. The Third Reich was destroyed within
just 4 years after Hitler attacked the Soviet Union.
Fierce and farcical competition in politics continued for
another 45 years, until the collapse of communism in Russia.
Now it is a new world again - an era of fierce economic
competition...with plenty of mistakes, opportunities, and
A blockhead on occasion
The Daily Reckoning:
author Bill Bonner
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