I'm sure by this point you've seen the headlines proclaiming the end of the recession. Thanks to improving bad conditions and a mere 1% decline in GDP last quarter instead of the whopping 6.4% beating we took back in the first three months, economists are certain that we're in the clear that way at least.
When it comes to the U.S. showing any significant growth again? Well, that, very few people see happening anytime soon.
Just ask John Osterweis, chief investment officer of Osterweis Capital Management, who recently wrote: "The question now is, ‘Where do we go from here? (And) the simple answer is probably, ‘Nowhere fast."
He has good reason to think that way, since consumers are still nervously hording a decent portion of the money they'd normally be out using to buy shoes, cars, houses and vacations.
Regardless of the positive sentiment right now, the stark fact is that consumer borrowing fell for five months in a row - from February through June - and we're still waiting on the report for July, though that might very well have gained some considering the Cash For Clunkers program the government installed.
Still, nobody sees them suddenly shedding their fears and jumping back into the market with credit cards outstretched anytime soon. In fact, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS ) had some disheartening figures for public view last week, and they haven't changed their tune just yet.
"Consumers are under significant financial pressure. The weakness in household income - partly resulting from the sharp slowdown in hourly wage growth - will make it harder to raise saving without significant constraints on consumption."
And that doesn't even factor in that while economists are predicting the end of the recession, they're also certain that the unemployment rate will continue into the double digits well into next year, which will inevitably trigger more mortgage defaults, more saving and less spending.
The Bulls Vs. The Bears
Then again, there are highly successful people out there who take the exact opposite stance, such as Michael Darda, chief economist at MKM Partners, a brokerage firm located in Greenwich, CT. Back earlier this year, he correctly called for the market rally, and he's still one of the stronger bullish voices out there.
Releasing his own report, he spoke optimistically that he and his "continue to believe the consensus view of only 2% real growth for 2010 is far too tepid… The conventional wisdom has coalesced around the idea - which goes virtually unchallenged - that higher average savings on the part of households will ipso facto reduce the average rate of GDP growth during the impending recovery cycle."
The Wall Street Journal sums up his thoughts by writing:
"He says the pessimists once again are ignoring clear economic and financial signals, such as the continuing recovery in the corporate-bond market, which typically precede a recovery in stocks and in the economy. He thinks doubters soon will have still more egg on their faces. And he has been right so far."
While I'm impressed that he called the market rally correctly, so did our own Marc Lichtenfeld, an avowed bear in this whole mess. And the signs we're seeing - beginning with the "leaked" Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C ) memo back in March and going all the way through the last round of "better-than-expected" earnings reports - are doctored in one way or another to paint a more rosy glow than actually exists.
Quite frankly, right now, it's difficult to know what the truth is. And any sustainable rally has to be based off of some concrete facts eventually.
Monday, August 10, 2009 - by Jeannette Di Louie, Assistant Editor, Mt. Vernon Research