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Ian Campbell

Ian Campbell

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The Positive Spin Being Put On 'Green Shoots' and Other Things!

Why read: To test the contemporaneous views I expressed four years ago, to observe similarities and differences then and now, and to determine if you agree with my current views.

Commentary then: On June 14, 2009 I commented as follows:

An article titled 'Retail Sales, Jobless Claims Quite Misleading: Commodities the One Bright Spot' says:

  • "If not for the seriousness of the situation it would be comical how the popular press manages to put a positive spin on things these days. CNN and other media outlets are cheering the surprise 0.5 percent increase in retail sales in May. That headline number certainly looks good on the surface, but it's quite misleading. Retail sales were up thanks to rising gasoline prices that jumped sharply in the month. Ex out gasoline and retail sales were flat in the period"; and,

  • "Another data point the cheerleaders were crowing about today was foreclosure rates, which dipped 6 percent on a month-over-month basis. We would love to see a turnaround in the housing situation, but the fact of the matter is it's far too early to get excited about the economy bottoming. Foreclosures were still up 18 percent year-over-year and the monthly tally was the third worst on record".

The article goes on to cite other 'positive reports' that when scrutinized are not really 'so positive'.

I agree with the author's assessment. About 4 weeks or so ago a commentator coined the phrase 'green shoots'. Everywhere you now look you can find the words 'green shoots', irrespective of what news source the commentator works for, or what country he/she works in. I find many article headlines to be 'attention seeking' rather than factual.

With respect to 'green shoots' I suggest like any plant the root structure and the type of soil the plant is growing in both are fundamentally more important than what one observes above the ground. It is obvious that 'seed cast on rocky ground' cannot have the same long-term impact as 'seed cast on rich earth where there is a long and growing season, a balanced amount of rain, and a farmer who weeds and otherwise cares for his crop prior to harvesting it'.

In my view this latter thought must bring into play the fact that the U.S. is the world's largest economy and that it currently continues to face ongoing job losses, increasing deficits, reduced retail sales. Moreover, the current Administration continues to talk (in mid-2009) about increasing Medicare and social services in a manner that to me suggests it is weighting those 'social benefits' to a greater degree than it should until the U.S. economy begins to grow out of its current economic malaise.

To take the analogy further, America is 'fertilizing its soil with 'bailout' and 'stimulus' packages. To me the important questions are:

  • has America now recognized the damage it has done to its 'soil' by overproducing from it?;

  • has America left it too late to fertilize and refurbish its 'soil' in a way that prospectively will be meaningful?; and,

  • if America hasn't left it too late to rehabilitate its 'soil' is it clever enough not to repeat the mistakes of the past that led to where the U.S. economy is today?

Commentary now: Based on all that I currently speak to in this Newsletter, I would be hard-pressed to do other than confirm that what I said over three years ago is what I continue to believe today.

One has only to observe:

  • the on-going Presidential election rhetoric;

  • the rapidly approaching U.S. federal deficit 'fiscal cliff';

  • the already here (or about to be) U.S. National Debt ceiling issue;

  • Mr. Bernanke's latest and potentially greatest quantitative easing foray; and,

  • the complete absence of the term 'green shoots' from the lexicon of reporters and commentators for at least two years

to reach one's own conclusion on what I said three years ago, and am re-confirming today.

 

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