Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Sprott August Comment: Beyond the Stimulus

It is our view that the world’s combined government stimuli have completely distorted the global economy in the short term, and have encouraged a false sense of hope in the stock market. While the market has rallied, the real economy continues to struggle, and is notably worse in many areas. Rates of employment, corporate revenues, US housing prices and retail sales all continue to decline in the face of ‘shock and awe economics’. In our assessment of recent economic data, there are only two possible explanations for the recent market rally. Either investors are discounting an incredible economic recovery that is just around the corner (hard to believe), or the extra liquidity injected into the economy has found its way into the stock market. We’re leaning towards the latter alternative.

In the world of government stimulus, the size and speed of the injections are critical to their impact. Once the taps are turned on full bore, any reduction to the stimulus will have almost the same negative impact as removing it entirely. We are now seeing this reduction on three fronts: the Federal Reserve threatening to close the window on its 'quantitative easing’ program; the tax cuts and transfers already paid out to US citizens; and the Chinese banks now reining in their excessive lending. In trader terms - we will soon have no "dry powder" left to burn.

In their 2008 annual report, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) recently reviewed previous banking crises and suggested that a sustainable recovery would require the banking system to take losses, dispose of non-performing assets, eliminate excess capacity and rebuild capital bases. The BIS concludes that “these conditions are not being met and any stimulus will therefore only lead to a temporary pick up in growth followed by protracted stagnation.” We agree wholeheartedly, and have seen nothing yet to suggest that the real problems plaguing the world’s banking system are being addressed. In our view, the threat of a double dip recession remains real. When the stimulus effects wear off there will be nothing left to replace the artificial demand they have induced. Investors should be prepared for what awaits us beyond the stimulus.