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Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roubini: "Reflections on the latest sucker’s rally"

by Calculated Risk on 3/14/2009 09:45:00 PM

The linked post is very long ... long even by Roubini standards! This is actually a short excerpt ...

From Nouriel Roubini: Reflections on the latest dead cat bounce or bear market sucker’s rally

It is déjà vu all over again. We have already seen this Groundhog Day movie at least six times over and over again in the last year or so: the market starts to rally – this time around about 8% in a week - and the chorus of optimists starts to say that this is the bottom of the economic and financial crisis and that we are at the beginning of a sustained stock market rally that signals the true end of this bear market.
Next Roubini outlines what he sees as the arguments of the optimists:
[H]ere are the arguments of the optimists:

1. While the first derivative of economic activity is still negative the second derivative is becoming positive around the world: i.e. output, employment, demand etc. are still contracting but they are – or will soon be - contracting at a slower rate than in Q4 of 2008. As long as the second derivative is positive rather than negative economic activity will bottom out some time in H2 of 2009 and the recession will be over sooner rather than later.

2. The policy stimulus, both monetary but especially fiscal, in the US, China and the rest of the world is starting to have traction and will contribution to the slowdown in the rate of economic decline and eventually –sooner rather than later – contribute to the economic recovery

3. Stock markets have already fallen in the US and globally by over 50% and are now way oversold. Earnings have fallen a lot but will recover soon as economic activity will soon stabilize. And since stock markets are forward looking and bottom out 6 to 9 months before the end of the recession we must be now at the bottom if the economy will recover by H2 or, at the latest, by year end.

4. Banks and financial stocks are way oversold; Citi, JP Morgan, Bank of America and other banks are now saying that they will be profitable this year and that they will not need any further injection of capital by the government. The financial system is solvent and the undershooting of banks’ equity prices was way too excessive.

Let us explain again – as we discussed most of these points here before – and flesh out in more detail why each of these optimistic arguments is incorrect or, at least, too early and exaggerated.
My main interest is in point #1 - economic activity - and Roubini quotes a post he wrote on March 2nd. (See Roubini's post for his discussion of the other 3 points.
"For those who argue that the second derivative of economic activity is turning positive (i.e. economies are contracting but a slower rate than in Q4 of 2008) the latest data don’t confirm this relative optimism. In Q4 of 2008 GDP fell by about 6% in the US, 6% in the Eurozone, by 8% in Germany, by 12% in Japan, by 16% in Singapore and by 20% in South Korea. So things are even more awful in Europe and Asia than the US ...

First, note that most indicators suggest that the second derivative of economic activity is still sharply negative in Europe and Japan and close to negative in the US and China: some signals that the second derivative was turning positive for US and China (a stabilizing ISM and PMI, credit growing in January in China, commodity prices stabilizing, retail sales up in the US in January) turned out to be fake starts. For the US, the Empire State and Philly Fed index of manufacturing are still in free fall; initial claims for unemployment benefits are up to scary levels suggesting accelerating job losses; the sales increases in January is a fluke (more of a rebound from a very depressed December after aggressive post-holiday sales than a sustainable recovery).

For China the growth of credit in China is only driven by firms borrowing cheap to invest in higher returning deposits not to invest; and steel prices in China have resumed their sharp fall. The more scary data are those for trade flows in Asia with exports falling by about 40 to 50% in Japan, Taiwan, Korea for example. Even correcting for the effect of the new Chinese Year exports and imports are sharply down in China with imports falling (-40%) more than exports. This is a scary signal as Chinese imports are mostly raw materials and intermediate inputs; so while Chinese exports have fallen so far less than the rest of Asia they may fall much more sharply in the months ahead as signaled by the free fall in imports.

With economic activity contracting in Q1 at the same rate as in Q4 a nasty U-shaped recession could turn into a more severe L-shaped near-depression (or stag-deflation) as I argued for a while (most recently in my Sunday New York Times op-ed). The scale and speed of syncronized global economic contraction is really unprecedented (at least since the Great Depression) with a free fall of GDP, income, consumption, industrial production, employment, exports, imports, residential investment and, more ominously, capex spending around the world. And now many emerging market economies – as argued here for a while- are on the verge of a fully fledged financial crisis starting with Emerging Europe."
As usual Professor Roubini makes some strong arguments. And I agree that economic activity is contracting in Q1 2009 at about the same pace as in Q4 2008. However, I think the composition of the contraction is different in Q1 (and following the normal business cycle). Most of the real GDP decline in Q1 will be from slumping investment and an inventory correction, whereas in Q4, declines in personal consumption (PCE) were an important contributor to the economic slump.

Maybe PCE will start cliff diving again, but so far the recession (no matter how severe) is still following the normal temporal pattern. Note: Even the Great Depression followed the normal pattern - just more so! Although there are still severe economic problems ahead, I think the shift in the composition is a potential positive. (See: Business Cycle: Temporal Order)

It is still way to early to call the bottom - and even after the economy bottoms, I think the recovery will be very sluggish for some time - but I am watching for the signs (see Looking for the Sun). Roubini concludes:
So, in conclusion and caveat emptor for investors: Dear investors, do enjoy this dead cat bounce and bear market sucker’s rally ... don’t wait too long until you jump ship while the financial Titanic hits the next financial iceberg: you may get squeezed and crashed in the rush to the lifeboats.