Characteristics of A Double Dip Recession

by Silicon Valley Blogger on 2011-06-1521

On October 2009, I pondered out loud: Is the bull back?!

Back then, we saw the stock market hit the magic Dow Jones 10,000 mark, as the indexes fought against gravity to climb up to that milestone. It’s still a ways away from the record setting 14,000 for the DJIA, which was once achieved in 2007, but it may feel like “we’re getting there.” In between 2009 and today, though, we are seeing a lot of fits and starts in the stock market, while the movement is still generally upward. It seems like our investments may have recovered somewhat, but what about the economy?


Sure, we’re supposedly in an economic recovery right now, but there are still people who are feeling the pinch of lost jobs, no jobs or upside down mortgages, as far as I’ve noticed. We’re far from celebrating here in my home state: the California unemployment rate is still hovering at around 12%, as this interactive graph shows. There’s some improvement, but not much.

double dip recession
Image from the NY Times

What’s more concerning to me is one event that some economists are warning about: the risk of a double dip recession for our economy. For instance, I heard about how Carl Icahn (a billionaire investor) has been addressing the possibility of a double dip recession if the unemployment rate continued to rise and if people put a cap on their spending. In 2009, he thought “we were right on the precipice” of another economic contraction (quoted from this Bloomberg article). Well, it’s been a couple of years and these same fears are now back in vogue.

Robert Shiller Speaks Out About A Possible Double Dip Recession

Then there’s Robert Shiller, the well known economist, who tells us that we’re at a “tipping point” with the U.S. economy. I came across a pretty interesting video that featured this guy, where he discusses the possibility of a recession. Note that technically speaking, the term “double dip” may or may not be applicable if you are to check actual time periods for growth and pullbacks. It’s possible that we are looking at a brand new recession anyway (rather than a double dip) based on timing, but that’s another argument for another day.

According to Shiller, standard forecasting models show that recession concerns are unfounded. However, there are some indicators and continued economic scenarios that worry him. For instance, real estate prices have not improved and there has never been a post WWII recovery without a housing recovery. No chance here for robust or sustained economic growth if housing stays in the dumps.

There have also been changes in people’s expectations of future home price increases. Some studies show that those expectations have fallen drastically. The “general market” feels that over the next 10 years, housing prices will increase 3% per year vs the buoyant 7% a year that was the answer back in 2005. Given that the 30 year mortgage rate is at 4.5%, this discrepancy points to poor confidence in the real estate sector.

Another area to look at is the situation with the global economy: rich economies are showing signs of slowdown, developing markets are showing an uptick in inflation and then there are issues with Greece’s economy. These have all been confidence shakers. We face a debt crisis (thanks to “bubble” thinking and complacency).

Finally, there are some predictions that if oil hits a certain price per barrel, we’re all doomed to recession. The main thing pointed out by Shiller is that confidence is faltering, which tends to be a big negative influence on the economy. So the bad news seems to be swirling, despite the continued optimism of professional forecasters (some government agencies and Robert Rubin don’t see the specter of a double dip).

Robert Shiller gave some direction on how our country can improve its financial outlook for the long term. Bailouts, stimulus programs and regulatory reform may have positive effects, but he suggests additional reforms in the financial industry, our financial system and in institutions. He mentions that we need a financial system that actually helps people rather than one that sends them down the wrong path (as what happened during the subprime mortgage crisis). You can expect a turnaround once fundamental improvements are made in the way the financial industry serves its customers.

I certainly agree that we need fundamental changes here. I would encourage you to check out the Shiller discussion.

A Few Basic Questions About Economic Fundamentals

As I review the economy’s fundamentals, I feel uncertain about a few matters:

  • We’re supposed to have recovered from the worst recession since the 1930s. A good number of people may tell you they haven’t noticed much of an economic recovery.
  • Unemployment numbers haven’t improved much across the board.
  • Interest rates are very low, but is this helping out at all?
  • What’s fueling the market’s rise? Improved earnings reports, apparently, but this may be a result of business cut backs and company layoffs, rather than real growth.

So how do you feel about the economy’s future?

Created Oct 14, 2009. Updated June 15, 2011. Copyright © 2011 The Digerati Life. All Rights Reserved.

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Len Penzo October 14, 2009 at 7:54 pm

My mantra is a jobless recovery is no recovery at all. After all, how can businesses get well with so many people out of work and not earning income?

I think the market’s recent rise this is a bear trap, plain and simple. I recently pulled out when the market hit 9700. I’ll buy again on the next dip. Yes, the market may go a bit higher, but the fundamentals just aren’t there to support it in the long run.

I also think inflation is inevitable – but the big question is how soon will it get here??? My fear is that when inflation does get here, the Fed will be pressured by the current administration to hold interest rates to a level that will not be high enough to effectively contain it.

Then we’ll all have even bigger problems to deal with…

My $0.02 (after taxes)

Len

Michael Harr @ TodayForward October 14, 2009 at 8:51 pm

@SVB – if you hear an echo, don’t worry. I agree with virtually everything that you have in this post. The rally on ‘earnings’ and the avoidance of a ‘total collapse’ don’t really tell me that stocks are cheap. All it says is that stocks are cheaper than before and they’re doing well relative to a really bad year. Then again, lots of things look good against a nasty background.

I’m not surprised to see Dow 10k, but let’s face it, there is no way that this is sustainable. Part of the problem with the double dip is the fact that so much money had to come from Fed and Treasury that even if the economy recovers strongly next year, we’ll spark inflation that will inevitably be cause for another recession…can I get another scoop of recession please…what…yeah…I’ll have some of those unemployment sprinkles too.

If you use p/e10 as a measure of value for the market, you’ll find that we’re nowhere near cheap and decidedly in the overvalued category at this level. This, coupled with the fact that even if we pull out of this recession, it won’t be a robust recovery. Besides, we still have to avert a commercial real estate meltdown.

As for unemployment, I don’t really worry about that since it’s trailing. It should stay around 10% for a few years. BTW, did you take a hard look at the last unemployment report? The percentage change in the media sounded so nice…of course, that’s because there were hundreds of thousands of workers that dropped of the statistics because they are now ‘discouraged workers’. I’m sure we’re well past 10% if we didn’t throw out this group…maybe even moving towards 15%.

Dow 10k…it’s nice, but definitely too early.

Silicon Valley Blogger October 14, 2009 at 9:20 pm

So here’s the question — if many of us virtually agree that the 10,000 level for this market is premature, then who’s fueling the market upward? People are jumping back in, but who are they — speculators? traders? momo investors? Or are there actual average joes getting suckered into a potential bear trap, as Len put it? The pain of late 2008 is still quite fresh in my mind (and yeah, just half a year ago we were writing off our retirement funds….). Too crazy too soon, I agree.

My position in the markets: one foot in, one foot out.

Monevator October 15, 2009 at 12:24 am

if many of us virtually agree that the 10,000 level for this market is premature, then who’s fueling the market upward?

I’ll stick my next out and admit I’ve been buying all year, though I wish I’d been selling a bit more *last* year to pay for it. ;)

March was a super bargain but most people were so battle-scarred that they couldn’t see the lows for the blood in their eyes. I wouldn’t say it was a no-brainer by any means, or a ‘dead cert’ that the market would rise, but the cheaper it gets the more the odds are stacked in your favour.

I think the move up is pretty rationale – sort of. What do I mean?

Well, if you look at economic indicators, from China’s use of raw materials to inventories as companies start rebuilding stock, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic that earnings are going to increase.

Has this happened to a significant degree yet to justify these prices today? No, probably not. (Hence high valuations). But if it’s coming, and the more risk-hungry investors want to get on-board, they’ve been happy to buy today rather than wait for others to buy first and pay a higher price later.

Better to be early in selling a market and early in buying back in then late on both in my view!

Things do look heady now and we’re clearly not going to see another 50% rise in the next year. We will almost certainly see some small pullbacks. I don’t expect the return to March lows many seem to be waiting for but anything is possible if there’s a major ‘event’.

The trouble is ‘events’ are always possible and a worry, but mostly we only think about them after one has happened. CNBC was barely talking about a meltdown in 2007 or 1998 for that matter. Bear markets come out of the blue, not when everyone fears them, imho.

Don’t worry about unemployment — companies only begin rehiring as the last resort as they’re just as nervous as investors about the recovery.

Bit of a ramble.

Rob Bennett October 15, 2009 at 4:00 am

If many of us virtually agree that the 10,000 level for this market is premature, then who’s fueling the market upward?

My view is that it is fruitless to look for rational explanations of most stock market behavior. There is some rational behavior, of course, but the rational side of stock investing is so simple to figure out that it can be described in about 50 words. The productivity of the U.S. economy has for many years been strong enough to support annual gains of 6.5 percent real. Anything above that or below that is the product of emotion. An annual return of 6.5 real translates into a P/E10 level of 14 (fair value). Anything above that or below that is the product of emotion.

We were at insanely high price levels from 1996 through 2008. We toyed with the idea of going rational early this year, when we dropped to 14 (we actually went to as low as 12 for a brief time). But it scared us to let in that much truth all at once. Did you ever try to space out bad news because you could not bear to hear it all at once? You’re picking up clues that the boss you love is going to be replaced by one you know you will hate but you don’t start looking for a new job because you just cannot face something like this at the moment? That’s where we are today. We know we need to take a bigger hit than we yet have the courage to take but we prefer putting it off for a bit.

Spacing out the hit makes a certain amount of sense. But it’s irresponsible for us to push prices back to dangerous levels. Doing that greatly increases the possibility that, when we go down again, we won’t stop at 14 but will go all the way down to 8 or lower. The bigger the fall we have to take to get back to fair value, the more emotional momentum there will be on the down side. Say that the person worried about his boss being replaced decided that the way to deal with the emotional pain was to go on an expensive vacation to get his mind off his troubles. That makes it harder to deal with the job instability down the road but it provides a little temporary relief. That’s the way we are playing it today.

What most of us lack is a standard for knowing when prices are too high. People guess all the time. But the guesses are emotion-based because we don’t use a standard that applies in all markets to make the guesses. I think that the right standard is the fair-value P/E10 of 14. That permits gains of 6.5 percent real. Anything more than that is trouble and anything less than that is trouble. We all should be working to keep stock prices to what is justified by the economic realities, in my view.

Rob

John DeFlumeri Jr October 15, 2009 at 9:39 am

You are right about all of that, and October, late in the month, is always bad for the market!

Silicon Valley Blogger October 15, 2009 at 10:22 am

Well let’s look at the bright side. If things are going to dip later this month, the fact that this runup occurred is a good thing. It all just balances out and the dip will just take us to where we were to start with a few weeks ago… so no skin off your equity accounts, would you say?

Financial Samurai October 15, 2009 at 12:12 pm

SVB – We’re in the same area. Do you not feel the traffic, busy restaurants, and massive spending down in Santana Row? :)

I’m telling ya, it is absolutely a raging recovery we have here in San Francisco! Even the property markets are coming a live with multiple bids the norm again.

I’ve come away with 10 takeaways from this recession which I wrote about today. I also gave a shout out to you as well.

Best

Robert October 15, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Until jobs come back, I won’t believe the recession is over.

Financial Samurai October 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm

Robert – the funny thing is, everybody says only when jobs come back, but then everybody is US! Is anybody not employed on this board I wonder?

Monevator October 15, 2009 at 5:18 pm

I’m telling you guys, look at the data. Unemployment is a lagging indicator.

I agree it’s the most important thing morality wise — I’m all for wanting people to have jobs. But judging the recession by it is wrong. I doubt any recession has ended with rising unemployment. It always comes after, when the economy starts to grow, people can’t be pushed any harder, efficiencies have run their course, and new staff are required.

Jack @ Master Your Card October 16, 2009 at 4:07 am

I think I agree – especially with this comment:

We’re supposed to be recovering from the worst recession since the 1930s. Somehow, I expect it to take more work for us to pull out of the depths of this hole.

The thing is that when we were in the depths of the recession, we kept hearing officials urge us to get out there and start spending with confidence. They said (and they say, every time there is a dip in the economy) that the worse thing you can do in a down economy is to get stingy. I don’t know how I feel about all that – I think the uptick in the stock market IS a sign that people are getting over their shell shock and are starting to buy. But I don’t think that that was the problem with the economy. We didn’t have the subprime fallout, the biggest bank bailouts in US history, the Big Three auto makers take a beating, etc., etc. because we didn’t have CONFIDENCE. There are systemic failings and, as far as I can see, there has been little reform to take care of it.

I met a man the other night who was working with the FDIC as it took over a local bank. The bureaucracy is so terrible that the Fed guys can’t even get the money to pay the utilities. And, according to the consultant (who used to work for the bank), 80% of the people working on the gov’t bank takeover weren’t even from the FDIC – they were consultants. In particular, former executives at failed banks.

I’m no expert, but I feel as if there hasn’t been enough change yet for things to be all better….

But then again I’m particularly cynical ever since hearing about Barbara Ehrenreich’s book (author of Nickled and Dimed) Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America

see:

http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/10/11/enough_with_the_bright_side/

And I’m currently reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, the thesis of which basically says that economists and corporations use “shocks” (like 9/11 and the recent economic fallout) as opportunities to prescribe more privatization and more Chicago School style economics when voters and populations are dazed and desperate. I’m worried that things are going to get worse in Wall St. rather than better. Not to mention that now there’s a whole new racket for refinancing mortgages which nets a broker a fee, but leaves the borrower with another loan they can’t pay.

This was long winded and rambling, sorry, all I meant to say was great post.

MossySF October 16, 2009 at 5:28 am

Could be the run-up is simply in anticipation of the dollar totally collapsing (e.g. big inflation). Say if the market goes up 33% but the dollar drops 50%, did it really gain anything? Or suppose we plot the market in gold instead of dollars.

Michael October 18, 2009 at 5:14 pm

This is definitely a worry for me… Here comes that ‘W’ in the graph. Looks like Gold is really worth a look again and do I dare say a price point of $2000 in the not so distant future?

Mike

401k Investment Strategy October 19, 2009 at 3:31 pm

The Dow Jones Index getting this far is just short of a miracle. No major job increases from the business sectors and no great increase from revenues from many companies. There are not many banks that can give out loans like there was in 2003. The reason behind the rise in the stock market is because investors are trying to buy low. Well, I believe we are at the high point of the overall market and do expect a 10% decline.

Now, my only guess is that will the major markets post a gain by the end of the year. 2007 and 2008 ending in negative years but 2009 now has a chance to finish above 0%.

Geoffrey Henny October 30, 2009 at 7:17 pm

I still cannot see how we get great growth in the economy and the stock market with the consumer (70% of the economy) tapped out. Where is the growth coming from without the consumer? Can foreign earnings by US corporations make up for US consumer weakness? Then there is the question of energy prices. I keep hearing conflicting reports. One minute the pundits are telling us oil prices are headed down because of a huge supply overhang sitting around on tankers unsold. The next minute you get authors like Jeff Rubin saying we will be back to three digit oil prices in the first quarter next year. See Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization by Jeff Rubin. If that happens all bets are off. What do people think?

Simon November 18, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I’d like to add to these comments that here in the U.K. there is a massive problem with debt — personal debt, bank debt and government debt. If the U.S. is similar then the global economy is in deep trouble with just this factor, never mind unemployment (which reduces available taxes for Government) and the threat of inflation (which, in the U.K. could come from the Bank of England printing money). This has got to push markets down. Just my thoughts on the subject!

wesley January 23, 2010 at 8:16 am

I think the market is improving and will be rising over time. It is important that everybody believes in it, so there will be good results.

Rachael May 15, 2010 at 3:33 pm

You guys are analyzing the lawn that simply needs to be cut. Our economy is a false one…does not take Albert Einstein-Hawking to realize that. 70% of our GDP is consumer spending. Most of that spending was based on work wages/and or credit (see wikipedia for credit synonym-DEBT) China pumped the credit to fuel our insatiable penniless consumers, and then pumped their goods to justify their production.

DO THE MATH. Without consumers we are dead. Without credit we have no consumers (what was the savings rate???) And China (and others) still have our jobs…yah, can anyone say “a jobless recovery with negative growth?”

Men should act like men…such talk emasculates them, they just don’t know it.

GK Wallace June 16, 2011 at 10:49 am

Yes, most definitely ….

Silicon Valley Blogger August 6, 2011 at 3:21 pm

It’s interesting how a little over a month later that this was written, there’s now talk of a double dip! Of course, I had no idea that the country’s credit rating would get downgraded, and everything is seen in hindsight. Still, when we had the real estate boom and bust — it was the same thing: we wrote about some of the signs we were seeing that pointed to a bubble that was about ready to disintegrate. When it comes to financial crises, it’s not that hard to be proactive about taking steps to protect yourself — you can see things building and moving in the wrong direction before things get worse…. yet, people, societies and governments don’t care to react until it’s too late!

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