There are three problems currently facing the economy and markets. First, too much credit was created for individuals, corporations, and government and it needs to be unwound. Individuals and corporations have begun that process and it will continue for several years. Second, the U.S. economy’s recession began near the start of 2008. Even though government statistics masked its existence, it was evident through common sense observation. Recessions are a natural part of the business cycle and need not be feared. They generally last 12-16 months, causing stock markets returns to be low or slightly negative for a few months and bond prices to rise, offsetting some of the stock market’s return. However, the third factor, the recent credit freeze, has caused a powerful flight from risk pushing virtually all security prices much lower. This, in turn, makes the first two problems worse.
The credit freeze is much like a financial heart attack. It does not matter what other illnesses the patient may have, because they become irrelevant if the heart cannot be restarted. If credit does not flow through the economy’s veins, then business will come to a halt. Every week that conditions were frozen will likely add one month to the patient’s recovery. Thus, we expect that the four weeks from mid-September to mid-October will add four months to our recession, taking us out to mid-2009 before conditions begin to look better. The stock market, however, will anticipate the recovery and begin to move higher before the news media can report improving conditions.