Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catastrophic Fall in 2009 Global Food Production

By Eric deCarbonnel

Global Research, February 10, 2009
Market Oracle

After reading about the droughts in two major agricultural countries, China and Argentina, I decided to research the extent other food producing nations were also experiencing droughts. This project ended up taking a lot longer than I thought. 2009 looks to be a humanitarian disaster around much of the world

To understand the depth of the food Catastrophe that faces the world this year, consider the graphic below depicting countries by USD value of their agricultural output, as of 2006.



Now, consider the same graphic with the countries experiencing droughts highlighted.



The countries that make up two thirds of the world's agricultural output are experiencing drought conditions. Whether you watch a video of the drought in China, Australia, Africa, South America, or the US , the scene will be the same: misery, ruined crop, and dying cattle.

China

The drought in Northern China, the worst in 50 years, is worsening, and summer harvest is now threatened. The area of affected crops has expanded to 161 million mu (was 141 million last week), and 4.37 million people and 2.1 million livestock are facing drinking water shortage. The scarcity of rain in some parts of the north and central provinces is the worst in recorded history.

The drought which started in November threatens over half the wheat crop in eight provinces - Hebei, Shanxi, Anhui, Jiangsu, Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi and Gansu.

Henan
China's largest crop producing province, Henan, has issued the highest-level drought warning. Henan has received an average rainfall of 10.5 millimeters since November 2008, almost 80 percent less than in the same period in the previous years. The Henan drought, which began in November, is the most severe since 1951.

Anhui
Anhui Province issued a red drought alert, with more than 60 percent of the crops north of the Huaihe River plagued by a major drought.

Shanxi
Shanxi Province was put on orange drought alert on Jan. 21, with one million people and 160,000 heads of livestock are facing water shortage.

Jiangsu
Jiangsu province has already lost over one fifth of the wheat crops affected by drought. Local agricultural departments are diverting water from nearby rivers in an emergency effort to save the rest.

Hebei
Over 100 million cubic meters of water has been channeled in from outside the province to fight Hebei's drought.

Shaanxi
1.34 million acres of crops across the bone-dry Shanxi province are affected by the worsening drought.

Shandong
Since last November, Shandong province has experienced 73 percent less rain than the same period in previous years, with little rainfall forecast for the future.

Relief efforts are under way. The Chinese government has allocated 86.7 billion yuan (about $12.69 billion) to drought-hit areas. Authorities have also resorted to cloud-seeding, and some areas received a sprinkling of rain after clouds were hit with 2,392 rockets and 409 cannon shells loaded with chemicals. However, there is a limit to what can be done in the face of such widespread water shortage.

As I have previously written, China is facing hyperinflation , and this record drought will make things worse. China produces 18% of the world's grain each year.

Australia

Australia has been experiencing an unrelenting drought since 2004, and 41 percent of Australia's agriculture continues to suffer from the worst drought in 117 years of record-keeping. The drought has been so severe that rivers stopped flowing, lakes turned toxic, and farmers abandoned their land in frustration:

A) The Murray River stopped flowing at its terminal point, and its mouth has closed up.
B) Australia's lower lakes are evaporating, and they are now a meter (3.2 feet) below sea level. If these lakes evaporate any further, the soil and the mud system below the water is going to be exposed to the air. The mud will then acidify, releasing sulfuric acid and a whole range of heavy metals. After this occurs, those lower lake systems will essentially become a toxic swamp which will never be able to be recovered. The Australian government's only options to prevent this are to allow salt water in, creating a dead sea, or to pray for rain.

For some reason, the debate over climate change is essentially over in Australia.

The United States



California
California is facing its worst drought in recorded history . The drought is predicted to be the most severe in modern times, worse than those in 1977 and 1991. Thousands of acres of row crops already have been fallowed, with more to follow. The snowpack in the Northern Sierra, home to some of the state's most important reservoirs, proved to be just 49 percent of average. Water agencies throughout the state are scrambling to adopt conservation mandates.

Texas
The Texan drought is reaching historic proportion . Dry conditions near Austin and San Antonio have been exceeded only once before—the drought of 1917-18. 88 percent of Texas is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, and 18 percent of the state is in either extreme or exceptional drought conditions. The drought areas have been expanding almost every month. Conditions in Texas are so bad cattle are keeling over in parched pastures and dying. Lack of rainfall has left pastures barren, and cattle producers have resorted to feeding animals hay. Irreversible damage has been done to winter wheat crops in Texas. Both short and long-term forecasts don't call for much rain at all, which means the Texas drought is set to get worse.

Augusta Region (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
The Augusta region has been suffering from a worsening two year drought. Augusta's rainfall deficit is already approaching 2 inches so far in 2009, with January being the driest since 1989.

Florida
Florida has been hard hit by winter drought, damaging crops, and half of state is in some level of a drought.

La Niña likely to make matters worse
Enough water a couple of degrees cooler than normal has accumulated in the eastern part of the Pacific to create a La Niña, a weather pattern expected to linger until at least the spring. La Niña generally means dry weather for Southern states, which is exactly what the US doesn't need right now.

South America

Argentina
The worst drought in half a century has turned Argentina's once-fertile soil to dust and pushed the country into a state of emergency. Cow carcasses litter the prairie fields, and sun-scorched soy plants wither under the South American summer sun. Argentina's food production is set to go down a minimum of 50 percent, maybe more. The country's wheat yield for 2009 will be 8.7 million metric tons, down from 16.3 million in 2008. Concern with domestic shortages (domestic wheat consumption being approximately 6.7 million metric ton), Argentina has granted no new export applications since mid January .

Brazil
Brazil has cut its outlook for the crops and will do so again after assessing damage to plants from desiccation in drought-stricken regions. Brazil is the world's second-biggest exporter of soybeans and third-largest for corn.

Brazil's numbers for corn harvesting:

Harvested in 2008: 58.7 million tons
January 8 forecast: 52.3 million tons
February 6 forecast: 50.3 metric tons (optimistic)
Harvested in 2009: ???

Paraguay
Severe drought affecting Paraguay's economy has pushed the government to declare agricultural emergency. Crops that have direct impact on cattle food are ruined, and the soy plantations have been almost totally lost in some areas.

Uruguay
Uruguay declared an "agriculture emergency" last month, due to the worst drought in decades which is threatening crops, livestock and the provision of fresh produce.
The a worsening drought is pushing up food and beverage costs causing Uruguay's consumer prices to rise at the fastest annual pace in more than four years in January.

Bolivia
There hasn't been a drop of rain in Bolivia in nearly a year. Cattle dying, crops ruined, etc…

Chile
The severe drought affecting Chile has caused an agricultural emergency in 50 rural districts, and large sectors of the economy are concerned about possible electricity rationing in March. The countries woes stem from the "La Niña" climate phenomenon which has over half of Chile dangling by a thread: persistently cold water in the Pacific ocean along with high atmospheric pressure are preventing rain-bearing fronts from entering central and southern areas of the country. As a result, the water levels at hydroelectric dams and other reservoirs are at all-time lows.

Horn of Africa

Africa faces food shortages and famine . Food production across the Horn of Africa has suffered because of the lack of rainfall. Also, half the agricultural soil has lost nutrients necessary to grow plant, and the declining soil fertility across Africa is exacerbating drought related crop losses.

Kenya
Kenya is the worst hit nation in the region, having been without rainfall for 18 months. Kenya needs to import food to bridge a shortfall and keep 10 million of its people from starvation. Kenya's drought suffering neighbors will be of little help.

Tanzania
A poor harvest due to drought has prompted Tanzania to stop issuing food export permits. Tanzania has also intensified security at the border posts to monitor and prevent the export of food. There are 240,000 people in need of immediate relief food in Tanzania.

Burundi
Crops in the north of Burundi have withered, leaving the tiny East African country facing a severe food shortage

Uganda
Severe drought in northeastern Uganda's Karamoja region has the left the country on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe. The dry conditions and acute food shortages, which have left Karamoja near starvation, are unlikely to improve before October when the next harvest is due.

South Africa
South Africa faces a potential crop shortage after wheat farmers in the eastern part of the Free State grain belt said they were likely to produce their lowest crop in 30 years this year. South Africans are "extremely angry" that food prices continue to rise.

Other African nations suffering from drought in 2009 are: Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland, Somalia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tunisia, Angola, and Ethiopia.

Middle East and Central Asia

The Middle East and Central Asia are suffering from the worst droughts in recent history , and food grain production has dropped to some of the lowest levels in decades. Total wheat production in the wider drought-affected region is currently estimated to have declined by at least 22 percent in 2009. Owing to the drought's severity and region-wide scope, irrigation supplies from reservoirs, rivers, and groundwater have been critically reduced. Major reservoirs in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria are all at low levels requiring restrictions on usage. Given the severity of crop losses in the region, a major shortage of planting seed for the 2010 crop is expected.

Iraq
In Iraq during the winter grain growing period, there was essentially no measurable rainfall in many regions, and large swaths of rain-fed fields across northern Iraq simply went unplanted. These primarily rain-fed regions in northern Iraq are described as an agricultural disaster area this year, with wheat production falling 80-98 percent from normal levels. The USDA estimates total wheat production in Iraq in 2009 at 1.3 million tons, down 45 percent from last year.

Syria
Syria is experienced its worst drought in the past 18 years, and the USDA estimates total wheat production in Syria in 2009 at 2.0 million tons, down 50 percent from last year. Last summer, the taps ran dry in many neighborhoods of Damascus and residents of the capital city were forced to buy water on the black market. The severe lack of rain this winter has exacerbated the problem.

Afghanistan
Lack of rainfall has led Afghanistan to the worst drought conditions in the past 10 years. The USDA estimates 2008/09 wheat production in Afghanistan at 1.5 million tons, down 2.3 million or 60 percent from last year. Afghanistan normally produces 3.5-4.0 million tons of wheat annually.

Jordan
Jordan's persistent drought has grown worse, with almost no rain falling on the kingdom this year. The Jordanian government has stopped pumping water to farms to preserve the water for drinking purposes.

Other Middle Eastern and Central Asian nations suffering from drought in 2009 are: The Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Israel, Bangladesh, Myanmar, India, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Thailand, Nepal, Pakistan, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Cyprus, and Iran.


Lack of credit will worsen food shortage

A lack of credit for farmers curbed their ability to buy seeds and fertilizers in 2008/2009 and will limit production around the world. The effects of droughts worldwide will also be amplified by the smaller amount of seeds and fertilizers used to grow crops.

Low commodity prices will worsen food shortage

The low prices at the end of 2008 discouraged the planting of new crops in 2009. In Kansas for example, farmers seeded nine million acres, the smallest planting for half a century. Wheat plantings this year are down about 4 million acres across the US and about 1.1 million acres in Canada. So even discounting drought related losses, the US, Canada, and other food producing nations are facing lower agricultural output in 2009.

Europe will not make up for the food shortfall

Europe, the only big agricultural region relatively unaffected by drought, is set for a big drop in food production. Due to the combination of a late plantings, poorer soil conditions, reduced inputs, and light rainfall, Europe's agricultural output is likely to fall by 10 to 15 percent.

Stocks of foodstuff are dangerously low

Low stocks of foodstuff make the world's falling agriculture output particularly worrisome. The combined averaged of the ending stock levels of the major trading countries of Australia, Canada, United States, and the European Union have been declining steadily in the last few years:

2002-2005: 47.4 million tons
2007: 37.6 million tons
2008: 27.4 million tons

These inventory numbers are dangerously low, especially considering the horrifying possibility that China's 60 million tons of grain reserves doesn't actually exists .


Global food Catastrophe

The world is heading for a drop in agricultural production of 20 to 40 percent, depending on the severity and length of the current global droughts. Food producing nations are imposing food export restrictions. Food prices will soar, and, in poor countries with food deficits, millions will starve.

The deflation debate should end now

The droughts plaguing the world's biggest agricultural regions should end the debate about deflation in 2009. The demand for agricultural commodities is relatively immune to developments in the business cycles (at least compared to that of energy or base metals), and, with a 20 to 40 percent decline in world production, already rising food prices are headed significantly higher.

In fact, agricultural commodities NEED to head higher and soon, to prevent even greater food shortages and famine. The price of wheat, corn, soybeans, etc must rise to a level which encourages the planting of every available acre with the best possible fertilizers. Otherwise, if food prices stay at their current levels, production will continue to fall, sentencing millions more to starvation.

Competitive currency appreciation

Some observers are anticipating “competitive currency devaluations” in addition to deflation for 2009 (nations devalue their currencies to help their export sector). The coming global food shortage makes this highly unlikely. Depreciating their currency in the current environment will produce the unwanted consequence of boosting exports—of food. Even with export restrictions like those in China, currency depreciation would cause the outflow of significant quantities of grain via the black market.

Instead of “competitive currency devaluations”, spiking food prices will likely cause competitive currency appreciation in 2009. Foreign exchange reserves exist for just this type of emergency . Central banks around the world will lower domestic food prices by either directly selling off their reserves to appreciate their currencies or by using them to purchase grain on the world market.

Appreciating a currency is the fastest way to control food inflation. A more valuable currency allows a nation to monopolize more global resources (ie: the overvalued dollar allows the US to consume 25% of the world's oil despite having only 4% of the world's population). If China were to selloff its US reserves, its enormous population would start sucking up the world's food supply like the US has been doing with oil.

On the flip side, when a nation appreciates its currency and starts consuming more of the world's resources, it leaves less for everyone else. So when china appreciates the yuan, food shortages worldwide will increase and prices everywhere else will jump upwards. As there is nothing that breeds social unrest like soaring food prices, nations around the world, from Russia, to the EU, to Saudi Arabia, to India, will sell off their foreign reserves to appreciate their currencies and reduce the cost of food imports. In response to this, China will sell even more of its reserves and so on. That is competitive currency appreciation.

When faced with competitive currency appreciation, you do NOT want to be the world's reserve currency. The dollar is likely to do very poorly as central banks liquidate trillions in US holdings to buy food and appreciate their currencies.

By Eric deCarbonnel
http://www.marketskeptics.com

Eric is the Editor of Market Skeptics

© 2009 Copyright Eric deCarbonnel - All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Christian Contentment

Here is a link to the sermon I preached Sunday on Hebrews 13:5-6, which reads as follows:

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say:


"The LORD is my helper;
I will not fear.
What can man do to me?"


It was one of those sermons where I couldn't seem to read a coherent sentence the first time through. Sorry about that. Anyhow, you will not practice Christian simplicity until you arrive at Christian contentment. You will not arrive at Christian contentment without a strong and nourishing belief in the doctrine of Providence. I may preach a few more weeks on this theme. I haven't decided yet.

Well, the markets fell off a cliff today. I don't quite believe that the rally is over. It seems a little early yet, but I sold all of my long positions that I wanted to exit on Friday right before the close. If you watch the markets long enough you can almost feel when a major turn is at hand. I got that feeling on Friday and sold what I had bought back in January, even though the wave structure wasn't clear (see my post on the free Elliott Wave tutorial.) The only thing I kept was my Bank of America stock. Even though it tanked today, I think it has a bit more to rise.

Ideally we'd have a healthy pullback, retracing 50% or better of the rally, and then a new wave up to moderate new highs, finishing off May in the black. Then we'd turn and augur into the ground through the summer and Fall, with a healthy bounce about August. We'll see. Nothing is written in stone.

I have come to doubt that we will see Dow 9500. We will probably be blessed to see Dow 8500.

Anyhow, mass pessimism is back in vogue now for at least a little while. Adjust your expectations accordingly in whatever situation in life find yourself.

Most of all, stay liquid. Even if you don't have a lot of money, don't tie it up. In the land of the broke, the man with a dollar or two is king. My only recommended exception to that rule is to buy gold and silver. Now is a great time to buy some. gold is still under $900. Silver is just a skosh above $12. We could see $800-$850 before resuming the climb, but that's iffy, and I wouldn't wait for that to buy. When it's $5,000 per ounce, will you really care if you bought at $875 instead of $850? I doubt it. Gold is going to the moon, and so is silver. It's just their time to do so. Inflation (or the lack thereof) has got NOTHING to do with it. We had plenty of inflation from 1980 to 1999 and the price of gold went from $850 to $285 per ounce, and silver went from $45 to around $2. Where was the precious metals/inflation link then? Sometimes things trend together for awhile, then they go their separate ways. Don't make the mistake of identifying correlation with causation. It's an easy mistake to make. Most of the world makes it most of the time.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Free Elliott Wave Tutorial

Here is a link to a free Elliott Wave tutorial from Robert Prechter's organization, Elliott Wave International. You have to register and become a club member, but they don't do anything unbecoming with your email address. I used to be a paying subscriber and now I'm just a club member because I can't afford it anymore.

Elliott Wave and socionomics, properly understood, will revolutionize the way you make economic and financial decisions. I highly recommend spending the time on the tutorials to get an introduction.

Prechter is not inerrant. He's fumbled several calls, especially gold and oil. But I still think his methodology is sound. The case he laid out nine years ago in his book "Conquer the Crash" is unfolding before our eyes right now.

More Confirmation of our Situation

Well, has the change is mass sentiment got you feeling better? We're seeing more "light at the end of the tunnel" type of stories in the news. They're ignoring the awful data and keying in on the positive stuff. The markets have rallied on terrible news, which is what they do when sentiment turns. Nothing proceeds in a straight line, either up or down. Remember that. You didn't run out and buy a new car on credit or a bunch of stocks, did you?

The pullback I called for seems to be here. We won't know for a little bit whether this is just a correction in the ongoing rally or it's the end of the rally. The pattern doesn't look complete to me, so I'm guessing that we'll turn around and zoom back upwards in the next couple of weeks.

None of this means diddly-squat as far as our macroeconomic prognosis is concerned. The light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train.

Gold has pulled back and should see $850. We've already seen $869, so it wouldn't pay to get too cute with this buying opportunity. I'm still very long term bullish on gold and silver based on how they're acting. They've more or less decoupled from the dollar and are acting independently now, as they should if they were money instead of a commodity. I recommend either ebay or here for gold and silver purchases.

The dollar still shows admirable strength in the face of terrible fundamentals. All of this continues to support a deflationary depression scenario instead of an inflationary or hyperinflationary scenario.

Oil is due for a bounce into this summer. I'm expecting $80+ per barrel of oil and $3.00 gas during the summer.

Even though things are not terrible yet in America, we have to step back and take a look at the global macroeconomic picture. What follows is an article that does that. If you don't like to read articles like this, you can sum it up with the words found after Figure 3: "It's a depression alright." Specifically, the authors say:

"To sum up, globally we are tracking or doing even worse than the Great Depression, whether the metric is industrial production, exports or equity valuations."

and

"To summarize: the world is currently undergoing an economic shock every bit as big as the Great Depression shock of 1929-30. Looking just at the US leads one to overlook how alarming the current situation is even in comparison with 1929-30."

Governments and central bankers the world over are colluding to print more and more money to try and get out of the deflationary liquidity trap. This strategy has never, ever worked. It didn't work in the 1930's in the USA. It didn't work in Japan in the 1990's. It won't work today, I think. Japan printed what would be the proportional equivalent of ten trillion dollars if the U.S. had done it. 19 years later they're still in a deflation. We need a good world war to get us out of this mess. We need to make and then break a bunch of expensive things, kill a bunch of surplus population, and enforce savings by rationing consumer goods in the name of the war effort, just like when we went after Hitler and Hirohito. We'll probably have ourselves a nice war, too. Probably with China. I imagine it's a decade off, though.

Anyhow, enjoy your respite from fear and pessimism. It'll soon be over. Make hay while the sun shines. Make plans to put in a garden this spring and learn how to can the produce.



Tuesday, April 7, 2009
World Economy Falling Faster Than in 1929-1930

Barry Eichengreen, an expert on the Great Depression, and Kevin O'Rourke, take issue with the notion that the current downturn is less severe than the Great Depression. While the slump in the US is not as bad, that mis-states the global picture.


Note that many economists expect the US to suffer less than the big exporters, namely China, Germany, Japan. The reason is that the economic adjustment required of surplus nations is greater than that of debtors. Similarly, in the Great Depression, the US, then a major exporter, was harder hit than the overconsuming importers such as Britain, who defaulted on their debts.

The one bit of cheer is that this time around, government action is more aggressive, but it remains to be seen whether it is sufficient.

From VoxEU:

Often cited comparisons – which look only at the US – find that today’s crisis is milder than the Great Depression. In this column, two leading economic historians show that the world economy is now plummeting as it did in the Great Depression; indeed, world industrial production, trade and stock markets are diving faster now than during 1929-30. Fortunately, the policy response to date is much better.

The parallels between the Great Depression of the 1930s and our current Great Recession have been widely remarked upon. Paul Krugman has compared the fall in US industrial production from its mid-1929 and late-2007 peaks, showing that it has been milder this time. On this basis he refers to the current situation, with characteristic black humour, as only “half a Great Depression.” The “Four Bad Bears” graph comparing the Dow in 1929-30 and S&P 500 in 2008-9 has similarly had wide circulation (Short 2009). It shows the US stock market since late 2007 falling just about as fast as in 1929-30.

Comparing the Great Depression to now for the world, not just the US

This and most other commentary contrasting the two episodes compares America then and now. This, however, is a misleading picture. The Great Depression was a global phenomenon. Even if it originated, in some sense, in the US, it was transmitted internationally by trade flows, capital flows and commodity prices. That said, different countries were affected differently. The US is not representative of their experiences.

Our Great Recession is every bit as global, earlier hopes for decoupling in Asia and Europe notwithstanding. Increasingly there is awareness that events have taken an even uglier turn outside the US, with even larger falls in manufacturing production, exports and equity prices.

In fact, when we look globally, as in Figure 1, the decline in industrial production in the last nine months has been at least as severe as in the nine months following the 1929 peak. (All graphs in this column track behaviour after the peaks in world industrial production, which occurred in June 1929 and April 2008.) Here, then, is a first illustration of how the global picture provides a very different and, indeed, more disturbing perspective than the US case considered by Krugman, which as noted earlier shows a smaller decline in manufacturing production now than then.

Figure 1. World Industrial Output, Now vs Then




















Source: Eichengreen and O’Rourke (2009).

Similarly, while the fall in US stock market has tracked 1929, global stock markets are falling even faster now than in the Great Depression (Figure 2). Again this is contrary to the impression left by those who, basing their comparison on the US market alone, suggest that the current crash is no more serious than that of 1929-30.

Figure 2. World Stock Markets, Now vs Then




















Source: Global Financial Database.

Another area where we are “surpassing” our forbearers is in destroying trade. World trade is falling much faster now than in 1929-30 (Figure 3). This is highly alarming given the prominence attached in the historical literature to trade destruction as a factor compounding the Great Depression.

Figure 3. The Volume of World Trade, Now vs Then




















Sources: League of Nations Monthly Bulletin of Statistics, http://www.cpb.nl/eng/research/sector2/data/trademonitor.html

It’s a Depression alright.

To sum up, globally we are tracking or doing even worse than the Great Depression, whether the metric is industrial production, exports or equity valuations. Focusing on the US causes one to minimize this alarming fact. The “Great Recession” label may turn out to be too optimistic. This is a Depression-sized event.

That said, we are only one year into the current crisis, whereas after 1929 the world economy continued to shrink for three successive years. What matters now is that policy makers arrest the decline. We therefore turn to the policy response.

Policy responses: Then and now

Figure 4 shows a GDP-weighted average of central bank discount rates for 7 countries. As can be seen, in both crises there was a lag of five or six months before discount rates responded to the passing of the peak, although in the present crisis rates have been cut more rapidly and from a lower level. There is more at work here than simply the difference between George Harrison and Ben Bernanke. The central bank response has differed globally.

Figure 4. Central Bank Discount Rates, Now vs Then (7 country average)




















Source: Bernanke and Mihov (2000); Bank of England, ECB, Bank of Japan, St. Louis Fed, National Bank of Poland, Sveriges Riksbank.

Figure 5 shows money supply for a GDP-weighted average of 19 countries accounting for more than half of world GDP in 2004. Clearly, monetary expansion was more rapid in the run-up to the 2008 crisis than during 1925-29, which is a reminder that the stage-setting events were not the same in the two cases. Moreover, the global money supply continued to grow rapidly in 2008, unlike in 1929 when it levelled off and then underwent a catastrophic decline.

Figure 5. Money Supplies, 19 Countries, Now vs Then




















Source: Bordo et al. (2001), IMF International Financial Statistics, OECD Monthly Economic Indicators.

Figure 6 is the analogous picture for fiscal policy, in this case for 24 countries. The interwar measure is the fiscal surplus as a percentage of GDP. The current data include the IMF’s World Economic Outlook Update forecasts for 2009 and 2010. As can be seen, fiscal deficits expanded after 1929 but only modestly. Clearly, willingness to run deficits today is considerably greater.

Figure 6. Government Budget Surpluses, Now vs Then





















Source: Bordo et al. (2001), IMF World Economic Outlook, January 2009.

Conclusion
To summarize: the world is currently undergoing an economic shock every bit as big as the Great Depression shock of 1929-30. Looking just at the US leads one to overlook how alarming the current situation is even in comparison with 1929-30.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Gerald Celente and the Greatest Depression

Gerald Celente is uber-bearish, calling for a "Greatest Depression." I'm not that pessimistic myself, but he's smart and right much of the time.

Please pay careful attention to what he says about the FDIC and your bank deposits. The FDIC is broke. They are raising fees on the healthier banks in order to prop up the unhealthy ones. That weakens the healthier ones. Last weekend another bank in Georgia went out of business, and the FDIC said that the customers could have access to their funds starting in mid-May. You got enough money laying around the house to tide you over for a few months?

If you own commercial real estate, sell now. If you are considering buying commercial real estate or leasing it based on a certain property valuation, wait. The price will come down dramatically.