Monday, June 11, 2012
Hussman Weekly Market Comment: The Heart of the Matter
Over the past 13 years, the S&P 500 has underperformed even the depressed return on risk-free Treasury bills. Real U.S. gross domestic investment has not grown at all since 1999, and even as a share of GDP, real investment remains weak.
The ongoing debate about the economy continues along largely partisan lines, with conservatives arguing that taxes just aren't low enough, and the economy should be freed of regulations, while liberals argue that the economy needs larger government programs and grand stimulus initiatives.
Lost in this debate is any recognition of the problem that lies at the heart of the matter: a warped financial system, both in the U.S. and globally, that directs scarce capital to speculative and unproductive uses, and refuses to restructure debt once that debt has gone bad.
Specifically, over the past 15 years, the global financial system - encouraged by misguided policy and short-sighted monetary interventions - has lost its function of directing scarce capital toward projects that enhance the world's standard of living. Instead, the financial system has been transformed into a self-serving, grotesque casino that misallocates scarce savings, begs for and encourages speculative bubbles, refuses to restructure bad debt, and demands that the most reckless stewards of capital should be rewarded through bailouts that transfer bad debt from private balance sheets to the public balance sheet.
What is central here is that the government policy environment has
this result. This environment includes financial sector deregulation that was coupled with a government backstop, repeated monetary distortions, refusal to restructure bad debt, and a preference for policy cowardice that included bailouts and opaque accounting. Deregulation and lower taxes will not fix this problem, nor will larger "stimulus packages." The right solutions are to encourage debt restructuring (and to impose it when necessary), to strengthen capital requirements and regulation of risk taken by traditional lending institutions that benefit from fiscal and monetary backstops, to remove fiscal and monetary backstops and ensure resolution authority over institutions engaging in more speculative financial activities, and to discontinue reckless monetary interventions that encourage financial speculation and transitory "wealth" effects without any meaningful link to lending or economic activity.
By our analysis, the U.S. economy is presently entering a recession. Not next year; not later this year; but now. We expect this to become increasingly evident in the coming months, but through a constant process of denial in which every deterioration is dismissed as transitory, and every positive outlier is celebrated as a resumption of growth. To a large extent, this downturn is a "boomerang" from the credit crisis we experienced several years ago.