Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gartman calls the end of the recession "official"


Firstly, let us turn our attention to the chart at the
bottom left this page of weekly jobless claims. Clearly
now they have “spiked” lower. We were willing to
“give” the weakness in claims last week some room for
seasonal problems attendant to the closing of various
auto plants around the country and to the July 4th
holiday itself.

Obviously now, after another week
has passed and the weakness of the previous
week was followed hard upon by even greater
weakness… even greater “spikiness,” we’ve
concluded that this is indeed the sign we’ve
needed to officially call for the end of the current
recession… and so we are making that call.

The recession has ended. In light of the spike in
jobless claims AND in light of the recent upward
turn in the Ratio of the Coincident to Lagging
Indicators, we are making this statement as
clearly and as unequivocally as we are able to
make one. The recession is over. The worst of the
economic news shall all soon be behind us.

Make no mistake about this, however, it will be
months… even perhaps a year or more… before the
NBER meets and officially decides that the recession
has ended. Our long standing clients will recall that in
late ’04 when the Ratio turned down we said that
history mandated that we call for a recession sometime
in ’07 and we stood by that statement time and time
and time again, even to the point of being laughed at.

When jobless claims began to rise in mid-’07, we went
on record stating that the recession was only months
away… again to laughter. Finally, when Chinese
stocks first broke from their highs and when the US
stock market began to show clear signs of weakening
in late ’07, we said that the recession had begun…
always to derision by others.

Eventually, however, the NBER said that our views were the proper views and
that the US economy had indeed entered recession in
late ’07. They did not make that statement officially,
however, until only quite recently, more than a year
after the recession really had begun.

The recession is now over. But do not expect the
economic data to reflect that fact for many, many
months into the future. Unemployment is still going to
rise and rise dramatically. Indeed, we’ve every belief
that unemployment will not top out until it has touched at least
10% and we’ll not be surprised to see it “trade” to 11% or even
12% before its bull run is finished.

Too, we can expect retail sales to be very hard to
forecast for the next several months, for the consumer
remains distraught and concerned about his/her future.
In that environment, any propensity to ramp up spending
will swiftly meet head-on with continued rising propensities to save. Until the employment “stats” turn for the better, consumer spending stats will follow to
the downside. Such is the historic nature of things
economic, and despite the SEC’s, the NFA’s, the
NASD’s and FINRA’s admonitions that past performance is not indicative of future performance, in the economy the past is indeed prologue to the future.
In the future, given that it was housing and autos that
took us into recession, we’ll be brave and say that it
shall be housing and autos that take us out.

So long as the population here in the US continues to grow… and
it will unless Americans have chosen to give up sex,
which we doubt; and unless the Congress moves to
enact legislation that will clamp down upon
immigration, which it may do but which we fervently
hope it will not do; so go sit down and be quiet, Mr.
Buchanan and Mr. Dobbs! Please!!... we cannot live for
long with housing starts reported each month to be at
annualised rates of less than 0.7 million units. Too, the
average automobile in the US is growing very old and
the entire fleet is going to need replacement sooner
rather than later.

We have said before and we shall say
again that we’ll l soon have shortages of housing and
perhaps even shortages of autos. Again, that’s the
nature of things as the empiricist economists project
recent trends years into the future and forecast no
demand, while we know that all things economic ebb
and flow, moving from shortage to over-production and
to shortage again.

In this light we note that housing starts for June will be
reported this morning and they will be down, despite
our “call” above for the end of the recession. As our
clients will remember, starts rose smartly in May, but
we must see the May increase in its proper light: in
historical terms this supposedly 17% increase
from the April lows was a mere mote in the eye o
the downward trend in place since mid’06 when
starts topped-out just above 2.0 million
annualised units. 2.0 million annualised starts
for any protracted period of time is unsustainable.

That has been proven time and time and time again
over the past fifty years, and starts of less than 0.5
million are also unsustainable. We are there now.
Starts will turn for the better sooner rather than later.
The lows very probably were made in April, but the
new uptrend in starts will not be evident until such time
as we see something above 0.7 million annualised
units and the monthly data rushes upward through the
6 month moving average noted in the chart this page.

The consensus is looking for today’s starts figure to be
somewhere near .53 million annualised starts and we’ll
not argue with that “guess-timate” too loudly. We’d like
to see something above 0.6 million, but we won’t… not
until next month perhaps.

To this end, we’ll keep a much close watch in the
coming months on the building permits figures, for
permits always lead actual starts. Permits, however,
are horribly erratic because just because a permit is
issued does not mean that a “start” must start. The
consensus is looking for permits to be up a bit from the
May figure, calling for something close to 0.55 million
units. We’ve no reason to argue; we’ll await the actual
number however… it might be interesting.

Finally, regarding housing, the supply of new homes
for sale was recently reported at 10.2 months, down
from the record high of 12.4 months January, but far,
far above the 4 or 5 month supply that was the norm
back in the earlier part of this decade. This onerous
supply of new homes will be worked off before builders
shall have the confidence to begin building again…
and long before the nation’s banks will even consider
lending on building again!

This latter concern is probably the most important concern, for without
lending the entire industry is tainted. Banks will lend
when banks lend; it is that simple. Bankers will wait
until the other banker down the street has chosen to
act, and once the new process of lending to real estate
turns it will turn swiftly. It will be as if the present
problems were wholly forgotten, despite the promises
otherwise. Banking has always been thus; it shall
always be thus. Anyone want to bet otherwise?... We
thought not:

To make our final point, the NAHB homebuilder index
was reported out on Wednesday, rising 2 points to 17.
This index is like that of the ISM: it ranges between 0-
100, with 50 as the growth/no growth point. A figure
above 50 means the industry is strengthening; a
number below 50 means it is shrinking.

At 17 the industry is clearly still shrinking but up from 15 it means
that the shrinking is proceeding at lesser pace. This is
not then a “green shoot.” It is rather than the old shoots
are withering less quickly. “Green-ness” lies some way
into the future, but it will come. For the building
industry, at the moment, the line from “A Field of
Dreams” is turned around. Rather than “If you build it
[they] will come,” it is instead “If they come, it will be

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