While Obama relaxes in Hawaii, sipping Mai Tai’s adorned with little umbrellas and hooking up with distant relatives, a potential nightmare is giving him sleepless nights. Let’s say we spend our $2 trillion in stimulus and get a couple of quarters of decent growth. The “V” is in. Then once the effects of record government spending wear off, we slip back into a deep recession, setting up a classic “W.” Unemployment never does stop climbing, reaching 15% by year end, and 25% when you throw in discouraged job seekers, jobless college graduates, and those with expired unemployment benefits. This afflicted Franklin D. Roosevelt in the thirties.
So Congress passes another $2 trillion reflationary budget. Everybody gets wonderful new mass transit upgrades, alternative energy infrastructure, smart grids, and bridges to nowhere. But with $4 trillion in extra spending packed into two years, inflation really takes off. The bond market collapses, as China and Japan boycott the Treasury auctions. The dollar tanks big time, gold breaks $2,300, and silver explodes to $50. Ben Bernanke has no choice but to engineer an interest rate spike to dampen inflationary fires and rescue the dollar, taking the Fed funds rate up to a Volkeresque 18%. %. The stock market crashes, taking the S&P well below the 666 low we saw in March. Housing, having never recovered, drops by half again, wiping out more bank equity, and forcing the Treasury to launch TARP II.
The bad news accelerates into the 2012 election year. Obama is burned in effigy; Sarah Palin is elected president, and immediately sets to undoing all of his work. Republicans, reinvigorated by new leadership, and energized by a failing economy, retake both houses of congress. National health care is shut down as a wasteful socialist mistake, boondoggle subsidies for alternative energy are eliminated, and the savings are used to justify huge tax cuts for high income earners. We invade Iran, and crude hits $500.
If you’re over 50, and all of this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because we’ve been through it all before. Remember Jimmy Carter? Remember the “misery index,” the unemployment rate plus the inflation rate, which hit 20, and catapulted Ronald Reagan into an eight year presidency? A replay is not exactly a low probability scenario. This is why junk bond yields are still stubbornly high at 12.5%, and credit default swaps live at lofty levels. It’s also why the investing public is gun shy, favoring bonds over stocks by a ten to one margin. Are the equity markets pricing in these possibilities? Not a chance.
The risk of economic Armageddon is still out there. Personally, I give it a 50:50 chance. Batten the hatches, and please pass the Xanax.
For more iconoclastic and out of consensus analysis, visit me at www.madhedgefundtrader.com.