PORTO, PORTUGAL – “I wonder what the suicide rate is in this hotel?”
We posed the question this morning, not expecting an answer.
We had been wandering the dark, labyrinthine corridors in search of an elevator. It is a newish place, designed to be cool. Minimalist. Hip.
Little light – either natural or artificial.
It’s the Hotel Teatro in Porto, in northwest Portugal. If you choose to stay here, be sure to bring an antidepressant.
The view of the lobby in the Hotel Teatro
But aside from the hotel, the more we see of Portugal, the better we like it.
More to come…
Meanwhile, depression is on our mind… and on the table.
U.S. stock prices are almost 350% higher than where they were at the bottom of the 2008 crisis.
That has created a lot of new paper wealth among the wealthy. The “One Percent” are checking their stock prices and giving each other high fives.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that new jobless claims are down to levels not seen since the 1970s.
To hear them tell the story, we’re running as close to full employment as ever. Yes, Junior is parking cars… and gramps is greeting shoppers at Home Depot!
Meanwhile, consumer price inflation is low. Wages are rising. Even the Bonner & Partners research team says we’re now moving away from doom.
Yes, here’s the latest on our Doom Index from our head of research, Joe Withrow. [For more on what goes into Bill’s Doom Index, catch up here.]
After issuing a strong warning last quarter, the Doom Index has cooled down again. Our third-quarter reading was a “5” – one point below our warning level.
This is what happened back at the end of 2015 also. The Doom Index hit a “7” in the fourth quarter of 2015… only to cool back down over the next two quarters.
That’s why we don’t bring the crash flag out until we get an “8” reading…
The Doom Index has never cooled off from an “8” without a major market crash first.
Credit growth and railcar use are the two metrics that improved significantly this quarter.
But U.S. stock market valuations are still high by historical standards. That is not going to change until this bull market finally dies.
In short, doom is guaranteed, but not today.
Tale of Two Economies
But what kind of recovery can you expect, when you finance it with fake money?
A fake recovery, of course.
The trouble with numbers is that they are easily suborned. They don’t lie necessarily; they just tell the truth you want to hear.
In the stock market, colleague David Stockman points to Tuesday’s 5% bump-up in Caterpillar stock, which drove the Dow higher. You’d think Caterpillar was doing a land-office business. But profits are no higher than they were 30 years ago.
Averages, too, are misleading. They combine rich with poor and leave the impression of a healthy middle class. Trouble is, it doesn’t exist.
Ray Dalio, who runs the biggest hedge fund in America, Bridgewater Associates, says it’s like looking at two different countries.
The rich, the well-educated, the insiders, and the Deep State functionaries in favored ZIP codes are doing fine. But most people aren’t. After factoring for inflation, they earn less than they did in the last century.
And now, they’re dying sooner.
Dalio divides the nation into the top 40% of earners, and the bottom 60%. Here, Bloomberg summarizes the two parts:
The top 40% now has on average 10 times as much wealth as those in the bottom 60, up from six times as much in 1980.
Just a third of the bottom 60% saves any of its income, compared to about 70% of the top 40.
Meanwhile, if you are in the bottom 60% of earners, you’re twice as likely to die prematurely as the top 40%. And you’ll be sicker before you die, too. You’ll probably take opioids – such as oxycodone or hydrocodone – to ease the pain… or perhaps just the boredom.
“Distressed” ZIP Codes
And you’ll work longer, too.
Americans are retiring later. At our age – 69 – one in three people are still on the job. Some are still working because they want to. Others, because they have to.
According to the Economic Innovation Group (EIG), which promotes entrepreneurship in America, about 52 million Americans live in “distressed ZIP codes.” (We doubt ZIP codes are distressed; the EIG must be referring to the people in them.)
Here’s the EIG:
Job growth in distressed ZIP codes was negative on average from 2011 to 2015, trailing the average prosperous ZIP code by more than 30 percentage points.
Distressed ZIP codes were the only group in which the number of both jobs and business establishments declined during the national recovery.
Most distressed ZIP codes contain fewer jobs and places of business today than they did in 2000.
If that weren’t bad enough, Bloomberg piles on:
University of Michigan economists HwaJung Choi and Robert Schoeni used survey data to compare middle-age Americans’ health. A key measure is whether people have trouble with an “activity of daily living,” or ADL, such as walking across a room, dressing and bathing themselves, eating, or getting in or out of bed.
The study showed the number of middle-age Americans with ADL limitations has jumped: 12.5% of Americans at the current retirement age of 66 had an ADL limitation in their late 50s, up from 8.8% for people with a retirement age of 65.
Depressing? Apparently. Ninety people per day die from opioids – prescribed by doctors and paid for by the U.S. government.
MARKET INSIGHT: CREDIT GROWTH STALLS
By Chris Lowe, Editor at Large, Bonner & Partners
U.S. credit growth is stalling…
As Bill mentioned above, he hasn’t raised his “Crash Alert” flag yet.
But one of the eleven indicators that make up his Doom Index is nearing recession territory.
Today’s chart tracks bank loan growth. The gray areas on the chart show recessions.
Between 1952 and 2008, the U.S. economy has gone into a recession every time credit growth fell below 2%.
As you can see, annual bank loan growth is now growing at 3% – just above recession territory, in other words.
– Chris Lowe
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During the 1987 crash, something called “portfolio insurance” is believed to have made the fall even worse. Now, this bull market has another type of portfolio insurance. And it’s getting clobbered.
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A “100-bagger” is a stock that returns $100 for every $1 invested. One of Bill’s top analysts, Chris Mayer, spent years researching these big winners. And he found that they all have three things in common…
The Automation of Everything
Automation has been on a slow march through the economy for over one hundred years. But only recently, automation in some industries has grown at an exponential rate. Here’s why.