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Is This Really A Recovery?

Money Matters
January 2004
Is This Really A Recovery?
Presented by The Money Management Firm, Inc.
www.moneymanagementfirm.com
EBay I.D. optionsforyou
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Bill Gates and General Motors
Bill Gates is hanging out with the chairman of General Motors."If automotive technology had kept pace with computer technology over the past few decades," boasts Gates, "you would now be driving a V-32 instead of a V-8, and it would have a top speed of 10,000 miles per hour. Or, you could have an economy car that weighs 30 pounds and gets a thousand miles to a gallon of gas. In either case, the sticker price of a new car would be less than $50." "Sure," says the GM chairman. "But would you really want to drive a car that crashes four times a day?"
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Is This Really A Recovery?
Since the fall of 2003, we’ve received a mass of good news about the economy. First-time jobless claims have fallen and are consistently below the 400,000 per week threshold which is considered the dividing line between an expanding and contracting labor market. Housing starts in 2003 were at 1.8 million, a level not seen since 1986. Worker productivity has increased substantially. The unemployment rate has dropped to 5.7%. The stock market was on a tear in 2003: the S&P 500® gained 26%, while the Nasdaq tacked on 50%.
With all this good news, what’s the problem? If you’re one of the 2.7 million people who lost his job over the past three years, you’re not seeing the benefit of this recovery. The Labor Department released a very disappointing jobs picture for December, noting that the economy created only 1,000 net jobs that month. Economists had anticipated a jobs increase of 150,000. My guess is that most of those 1,000 jobs went to economists: they, along with meteorologists, are the professions where people make six figures a year for being wrong all the time. But that’s a story for another newsletter. During the final 5 months of 2003, according to Stephen Roach, only 278,000 jobs were added by non-farm businesses. That may sound okay, but nearly all of the jobs came in three areas: temporary staffing, education, and healthcare. Temporary staffing is comprised mainly of low-paying jobs, while education and healthcare are shielded from foreign competition.
Speaking of foreign competition, globalization has resulted in U.S. companies shipping many hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas to cheap labor markets like India and China. At first, the bleeding was no big deal: most of the shipped jobs were sweatshop jobs. But now the shipment is getting more serious, involving not only

manufacturing but also services. A company can hire six Indian engineers for the price of one American one, and the company need not worry about skyrocketing health care costs or other benefits. Indian workers don’t demand the same kind of benefits as their U.S. counterparts.
The U.S. continues to lose jobs in manufacturing, retail trade, and financial and information services. In fact, U.S. factories laid off 26,000 workers in December, the 41st consecutive month of decline. The workweek also shortened from 33.9 hours to 33.7 hours, and average weekly earnings also declined. Much of December’s decline in unemployment was attributed to discouraged workers, i.e., those who gave up looking for work because they couldn’t find any.
Much of the present boom is brought to you by the U.S. government: more than $1 trillion in income tax cuts and sharply increased federal spending has made its way into the economy. History shows that tax cuts do benefit an economy in the short-run. But this comes at an unsustainable price to America’s future, as our huge national debt will reach a point where it either can’t be paid (i.e., a default by the U.S. government on its obligations) or the currency will be hyper-inflated to such a point where repayment is meaningless. Total debt is now $34 trillion, or $119,442 for every man, woman and child in America. Could it be that the current economic expansion has been funded with a credit card?
Interest rates hover at lows not seen since 1958, allowing Americans to take out billions in home equity loans to buy everything from cars to big-screen televisions. Low interest rates have contributed to the huge boom in housing starts. But both foreclosures and bankruptcies are at record levels. What will happen when rates rise?
The point of this article is not to say that the sky is falling. My businesses, like those of most people, thrive best during good times. But those who view the future through rose-colored glasses will eventually see those glasses turn into a deeper shade of red. There will come a point when the music stops – when there won’t be enough chairs to go around. For those of you who read my article entitled, “The Greatest Depression is Coming,” you should know that it still is coming. However, as the movie Gladiator ended, “ But not yet.”
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You can pass this newsletter around to others as long as you keep the website links.
http://www.moneymanagementfirm.com

About the Author

John Finger runs an information-based website, www.moneymanagementfirm.com, where subscribers get information on stocks, three levels of option trading and long-term investments which Mr. Finger considers worth examining.

 
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