The New Normal
July 05, 2012

Untitled Document

Somebody- I don’t know who- created a wonderful expression to characterize the state of the world after 2008. “The new normal” refers to the current moment, where indecision and uncertainty prevail. It differs from before 2008 because, more than ever, nothing should be taken for granted in economic terms, and we have to be alert every day. There are those who believe that once we pass this period everything will go back to normal. I don’t know about that but I know that this will last for few years due to the situation in Europe, US and China. The uncertainty causes extreme volatility in the markets; it’s getting harder and harder to protect your assets from unpredictability. The old notions of portfolio management- buy good assets and hold, look for yield and wealth preservation- are under attack as it becomes increasingly difficult to identify what qualifies as a good asset. The downgrade of US treasury bonds didn’t change anything, and that is still the asset of choice in “risk off” moments. That is amazing, considering that the yield is smaller than the inflation rate. Those who are not aware of this change of pattern will be surprised by the loss of wealth. It helps if you have a vision of what is going on and which story to follow, and the ability to act accordingly with your investments.

As I have said other times I still believe that the US economy is the one to bet on. In the US, we find the country more divided than it has ever been before. It is very difficult to know who will be the next president and even if we could predict that, it is hard to say who will win the Senate and House. There are several possible combinations and most of them lead us to believe that we will continue to have a dysfunctional Congress - a Congress that doesn’t pass any laws due to the political divide. We will probably face the “fiscal cliff” which could lead to a double dip in 2013 or at least a slowdown in growth. Estimates of the impact are of 4% of GDP and will vary according to the combination that will win the election.

Last week Obama won two victories with the Supreme Court decisions on immigration and health law. Those wins will not translate in increasing his electoral chances, but they will change the debate. Romney will try to get more voters in order to repeal the law. Obama will remind Romney’s voters that Romney is a flip-flopper and implemented a law in Massachusetts that inspired the federal law. On Friday, the market celebrated the results of the summit in Europe, but as the saying goe, “the devil is in the details.” The short-term impact was positive but as the structural problems are untouched the question is how long this will last.

As an economist, people look at me and always ask, “Is the economy getting better?” I learned that nobody is looking for an answer with an economic analysis. What people want to know is if their income will keep up, if their wealth will go up and if the market will go up or down. Bottom line, people are thinking about the stock market and the Dow Jones. If the market is up, you feel better, if it is down, you feel things are getting worse. That is why people are so confused right now with the ups and downs of the market. In the beginning of the year, the market was up almost constantly, due to better American indicators and the measures taken by the Europeans. The Dow reached 13.300. However, in March, Europe started to produce bad headlines again and the American economic indicators started to deteriorate. The Dow Jones reached 13300 but then came as low as 12.100 in the beginning of June. What has changed in the second trimester? The European periphery had to pay higher rates to sell bonds, the American indicators were not so good and the analysts started to believe that the slowdown in China was worse than expected. Other economies, amongst them Brazil and India, worsened as well.

Speaking of Brazil, last week the government announced yet another set of policies aiming to stimulate growth. In the past few years, while Brazil was cruising along in terms of economic growth, several reforms essential for the sustainability of the economy in the long run were not made. The country was on automatic pilot, except for the second semester of 2008. Now that the global economy had slowed down, the Brazilian economy is suffering. I am skeptical in regards to the impact of the new policies. In very simple terms, when there is growth people go into debt, thinking that things will stay the same forever. When there is a slowdown, employment and income disappear but the debt is still there.

On Monday, the markets were already giving back the gains of Friday; on Tuesday the Dow closed higher at 12.944. Depending on the upcoming economic news , the developments in Europe in China and finally, the earnings seasons, the Dow could surpass 14000 or come back to 12.200. That is the new normal, make your bets.

November 23, 2015
Much ado about nothing
October 27, 2015
Brazil, we can only pray (or hope)
August 18, 2015
Looking back, looking forward
June 30, 2015
Lack of good news
April 14, 2015
What if...
February 24, 2015
What to expect in 2015
November 17, 2014
The American conundrum or just plain stupidity?
October 27, 2014
What is next?
September 09, 2014
Lessons we should have learned
August 12, 2014
US and Brazil: 2014, what to expect next
June 26, 2014
Headwinds ahead but still optimistic
April 26, 2014
Roller Coaster
March 14, 2014
Brazil in perspective
February 07, 2014
Stay the course. Change the course.
January 17, 2014
Diversification. Or not.
November 25, 2013
Who buys a US$ 500 pillow?
October 02, 2013
September 03, 2013
What a mess...
July 31, 2013
Of Protests and Stocks
June 19, 2013
Betting in the future
April 30, 2013
Nowhere else to go
March 26, 2013
Cyprus: not enough to stop the US market
February 25, 2013
The Sequester
January 23, 2013
2013: what is ahead for investments
December 07, 2012
Brazil: uncertainty and mixed signals
November 05, 2012
It is not about the economy!
September 20, 2012
The Country is better off
May 30, 2012
Half empty, half full
April 30, 2012
How to restore prosperity
April 21, 2012
Brazil became poorer
February 27, 2012
Romney, Obama and the American Imbroglio
January 25, 2012
On storms and calmness, waiting for next round
December 22, 2011
Happy Holidays!
November 23, 2011
Impasse and Paralysis
October 24, 2011
The rally has legs. Or not
September 23, 2011
Preparing for the crisis
August 24, 2011
Kicking the can down the road: is there an end in sight?
July 24, 2011
Can the politicians be rational?
June 24, 2011
Global Economy: where are the world leaders bringing us?