Friday, December 30, 2005

Lackluster Year On Wall Street

While it truly was a bad year to be a worker, even investors didn't make out so well in this year's edition of the Bush economy. From Jerry Knight at the Washington Post:

The closing bell clunked today as the stock market ended one of its most lackadaisical and lackluster years ever.

The Nasdaq Stock Market composite index gained just 1.4 percent over the past 12 months -- the smallest annual move since that index was invented.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.6 percent for the year, setting another record for going nowhere.

The Standard & Poor's 500 stock index recorded a 3 percent gain, which means the average stock did better than either the blue-chip Dow or the tech-heavy Nasdaq. Still 3 percent--4.5 counting dividends paid by the S&P stocks--was a paltry payoff considering investors could earn more than 4 percent on certificates of deposit or government bonds.


Thumbing their noses at Wall Street strategists who encouraged their clients to buy stocks by predicting a "Santa Claus" rally, the traders who rule the market used the last week of the year to cash in what few profits they were able to make. In the process they drove down the market some more, leaving anyone still holding stocks with little to show for the year.

What went wrong? The weather was the worst thing. By slashing oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and trashing the economies of coastal states, hurricanes delivered a painful blow to the economy. As oil prices hit records, consumers began pulling in their horns and honking in derision at gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles. Detroit had a disastrous year: forced to bribe drivers to buy domestic vehicles, it still saw sales erode.

The Iraq war drained billions out of government coffers producing record budget deficits at the same time soaring oil imports gave the U.S. its worst trade deficit ever.

And the Federal Reserve's relentless increase in interest rates--which almost everyone agreed was necessary -- finally began to pinch.

Interest rates ultimately killed any hope of a year-end rally when a train wreck that Wall Street had seen coming for months finally occurred.

As the Fed boosted short-term rates over the past year, longer term interest rates, which are set by the bond market, refused to follow along. So many investors around the world are eager to buy U.S. bonds that the government could borrow all the money it needs without raising rates.

Usually rates on 10 year bonds are about 1 percentage point higher than rates on 2-year bonds. But the gap narrowed to a tiny fraction of a point and finally disappeared this week. On and off during the week, 2-year bonds were actually paying higher rates than 10 year ones.

Economists call that phenonomon an "inverted yield curve." They note that the last four times it has happened, the U.S. has gone into a recession. Wall Street insists this time will be different and maybe it will. But the threat of a recession ahead prompted many investors to cash in their stock profit gains this week, ending the year on Wall Street with a clunk.

Funny, wasn't Bush bragging just a couple of weeks ago about what a great economy he had created?

Doesn't seem like Wall Street made out so well.

And we know the working class and middle class got screwed by stagnant wages, inflation, and soaring health care/education/retirement costs.

So why do reporters keep repeating the meme that the Bush economy is rolling on all cylinders?

Just tonight on the PBS show Washington Week, Washington Post columnist David Broder noted that Bush's strength right now is the economy and what he needs to do is convince more people how fine a job he is doing creating jobs, creating growth, etc.

And yet, outside of the GDP numbers from the third quarter, most economic statistics point to a pretty lackluster economic recovery that seems to be quickly losing steam. Some economists have already started talking about the inevitable slowdown coming in 2006 and when the yield curve inverted earlier in the week in the bond market, even the talking heads on CNBC started
asking if we were heading for a recession.

So where's the strong economy? How is this economy a political strength for the preznit?

It seems to me that morons like David Broder simply take the talking points they're handed by Karl Rove, Dan Bartlett and Ken Mehlman and repeat them like they're gospel truth ("Rove says the economy's strong? Well, then it must be strong...")

It's odd that the newscasters rarely notice the economic contrast between GW and his predecessor. Even I notice, and I know very little about money or economy.
It seems so long ago and I guess I was too worried about the international disgrace BC caused by getting a blowjob in the Oval Office and then lying about it under oath, but now that you've jogged my memory, I do seem to remember a time when wages outpaced inflation and I had more money left over at the end of the month, not less.

Alas, BC was such an immoral figure that I think we're better off now...

Seriously, my stepmother and all four of her middle-aged kids think Clinton was a bad president because of the blowjob scandal (despite the fact they made more money and were better off during the 90's) while they think George W. is the second coming of Lincoln because he's a man of Christ and kept us safe after 9/11.

And these are people with advanced college degrees. Granted, they attended Catholic colleges, but still...

Why is it that so many of us (myself included) won't let "facts" contradict our own biases and cemented viewpoint of the world?
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