Predicting the U.S. economy for 2nd half 2008 and 2009
Well how much fun are you having today? If you hold investments, it may not be a fun day at all.
Back in the 4th quarter of 2007 I said I believed the Dow Jones Industrial Index would hit 11,000. I thought this would be a move in the late 1st to 2nd quarter. I was wrong… on the timeframe. But this is not a pat yourself on the back kind of moment.
With Indy Mac having failed and fears rampant over whether Freddie Mac and/or Fannie Mae will follow there should be no doubt that the Dow will cross into the 10,800 area on Monday. Add crude oil prices that are continuing to rise on fears from Iran and you get a bad situation. But perhaps the real culprit for this current situation is the Fed (Federal Reserve).
The Fed has been providing banks extra money to ensure their solvency, but not requiring that loan reserves be increased. It’s kind of like stopping a leak in your tub by adding more water. The problem is not getting fixed and may get far worse. And all the panic about the mortgage industry seems to have done nothing but whip up polispeak from political candidates and political parties, each looking to sway voters.
Loan reserves must be raised at all financial institutions. That especially means Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And several institutions need to fail. That of course means that some people will lose their homes. Nothing can, or should be done about that.
When I some will lose their homes I don’t just mean the roughly 4% of homeowners that are in default. I include in that group those that will fail this winter due to the cost of heating oil increases. I expect that in total some 7% of homes are in danger of foreclosure this year. While it’s not a nice thing to say, they need to lose their homes for the economy to survive.
This is not unlike the enormous wash-out that occurred when the internet bubble broke in the stock market. Money was lost, as it should have been, and opportunities were created. Those that made bad financial decisions, whether corporate or individuals, lost and others benefited from that loss. It’s a standard cycle in the markets.
Of course what is likely to happen is that Congress (with it’s 9% approval rating – sure to go lower) will take taxpayer money and bailout homeowners and financial institutions alike. Thus more water will fill the leaky tub. Undoubtedly the current Administration will be blamed (even more than they should) and the war in Iraq (and possibly Afghanistan) will be identified as the cause of all these ills. Which is false.
The outcome will probably be a surge for Senator Obama, who prefers a bailout. This may lead to him being elected and higher taxes to pay for that bailout. And if anyone thinks a bailout of this size will be limited to just the top 1% of the nation they are insane.
I believe, looking at current factors several things are highly probable:
1. Confidence in all financial will go lower forcing the need for more liquidity
2. Several institutions will fail – focused mostly on those dealing with housing markets first
3. Interest rates will increase by 1pt by the end of 2008, increasing another 1pt early in 2009.
4. Crude oil prices will jump to maybe $160 a barrel by mid-September as winter starts, with a commensurate move in heating oil prices.
5. Gasoline will reach $5.15 a gallon
6. Home foreclosure will hit 5.5%
7. Bankruptcies will increase by 3%
8. Higher energy prices will be blamed for the further slowdown in corporate profits and significantly lower (negative) holiday sales in the 4th quarter.
9. A Democratic Congress will be re-elected
10. Senator Obama will likely be elected
11. Republicans will be blamed
12. Taxes will be increased for all incomes by 3% by 2009
13. Corporate taxes will be increased by 10% early in 2009
14. Inflation will soar unchecked by 3 - 5%
15. Unemployment will grow to 8.5% by December 2008
While each of these items may or may not happen they are all interrelated. I expect each item to happen, at least to the degree I stated, generally in the timeframe given.
As money tightens, gold will be a hedge and prices for all precious metals will soar again. Credit will get severely crunched, and credit card rates will fly. The debt load on the average American will increase from the current $6,000 to $8,500. Most of this increased debt will be from higher energy costs. Thousands of small businesses will shutdown.
As a result of all these things I expect that the Dow Jones will drop to 10,200 by December. If I am correct about Congress and Senator Obama – for the reasons stated – then I further expect a drop to 9,300 during 2009. A significant bear market indeed.
The main problem is that the solutions being looked at now raised taxes and increased liquidity, fail to resolve the actual problem. And the combination will weaken the dollar, to a point where holding U.S. bonds is unattractive. I won’t even mention the increase in retirees and Social Security.
But there is opportunity. I see the housing markets as a great buy, for those willing to hold for 5 years. Buys in the secondary city markets will probably do best having a lower purchase cost and holding value better.
Several financial stocks will be excellent buys. Some have far better balance sheets than others, but will be blasted by the same investor fears as those in bad shape. Companies like Citigroup are trouble spots as they reinsure their own loans and thus hide them better on the balance sheets. Financials will lead the markets down, but they also will signal the start back.
Coal will likely start to regain interest in the quest for alternative energy sources. I expect nuclear energy will also get a push, with at least 1 new nuclear plant being authorized to be built in 2009. I expect a call to switch to ethanol produced by grass and sugar to go initially unheeded until mid-2010. Further harming the ethanol push is the fact that there will be a glut of ethanol by mid-2009 through 2011.
Bond rates will be more attractive in 2009 than today with the likely increases in interest rates. Of course inflation rises will remove that benefit.
There may be other sources of opportunity but they will be guided by factors including but not limited to:
Iraq and Afghanistan wars
Crude oil prices
Heating oil prices
Manufacturing and Industrial layoffs
Retiree growth rates
International political stability
Another terrorist attack on the United States
That is the outlook that I have based on what is currently ongoing in the world today. Some of this is just my on interpretation, some my deduction. But I believe that if only ½ of my expectations occur, the general outcomes as stated are accurate.
But look around and determine your own answers. Better to be prepared than taken by surprise.