In celebration of a decade of Barataria, I have to present another repeat. This is from March 2008. It’s an interesting time in that it was six months after the stock market peaked and six months before the financial collapse became obvious. One of the great themes of Barataria since this time has been how we’ve seen it all before and we’re about to see it again. The real story here isn’t that I called it at this time – it’s that so few people saw what was obvious as it happened around us.
Imagine that a new technology comes along that spawns a whole new industry. Not only is this industry a revolution in how people lead their lives, it’s immensely popular and generates a big pile of cash. The field starts out wide-open with many small entrepreneurs, but gradually they become rich as they are bought out by a few big players. Soon, the industry has consolidated and re-investment slows dramatically. Those who made big money start to put it into real estate, specifically in Midtown Manhattan, Florida, and Los Angeles.
It’s nearly Christmas. Whatever that may mean to you is entirely a matter of faith, tradition, and experience on your part.
But so is the rest of life. Christmastime, as an experience, is nothing more than the rest of your life made more vivid.
In the heat of the summer start to the Presidential campaign, it’s hard to remember that we’re really still in Winter. That’s in economic terms, as the cycles of the seasons last for years rather than a few months. There’s a good reason people are as angry as they are. This Winter has been long and brutal.
Then again, as Barataria has pointed out before, things are very much warming up. Employment is up like the first tulips of Spring and most of the signs are very positive. But it doesn’t feel that way to many people. As sure as the arrival of Spring often comes with a few storms it seems darker before it all clears up.
Spring is coming. If you pause for a moment and reflect you can feel it. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to just sit around and wait. If you ask any gardener or farmer, Spring is the season with the most work. To get it done, there is no doubt that we are stronger together – that many hands make light work. More importantly, what we harvest is what we plant now. There’s a lot to do, but plenty of reasons to do it joyfully.
The day started with a shipment of my latest experiments from Germany. The high performance plastics (fluoropolymers) which were on the cutting edge of the technology, if everything turned out right, had to be separated from the latex solution they were made in, washed, and dried. It was a lot of labor but in the 3M lab we had to do our own workup after the fully setup lab across the Atlantic pushed through our requests.
In the middle of squeezing water out of the flaky solids with cheesecloth Steve Amos came in. “A plane hit a building in Manhattan. It’s on fire.” We talked about the news for a while even though we knew little. Steve’s dad was a pilot so I knew he had to talk for a bit. He left after we chatted and I went back to work. When he came back in a short while later he had a more stern look.
“A second building was hit. They say we’re under attack.”
The stock market has rallied for two days, with the S&P500 back at 1987 from its low of 1869. It’s still down 6.8% from its peak of 2130, set in May, (and nearly matched just a month ago) and down 3.5% for the year. It’s almost like the crash never happened, right?
Well, no. But there is a lot of good news for the underlying economy, some of which came in this week. The really good news is still out into next year, which is essentially forever to this market. We have to get over an interest rate hike, which will definitely come this year no matter what you read elsewhere, and a lot of jitters.
“All money is a matter of belief.”
– Adam Smith
Gold is taking a solid beating these days. It’s been slipping for a while, but when China revealed that it’s reserves were less than believed it really fell – quickly slipping below $1,100 per ounce when one mysterious trader dumped everything. It’s now more than a third off its 2010 peak and nearly everyone believes that it’s doomed to slip below $1,000 per ounce by the end of the year.
What happened? Isn’t gold the ultimate money in an unstable world? The short answer is no, and this has as much to do with the rise of the US Dollar as anything. But in the end gold is not as much a form of money as it is a barometer of fear – a commodity that appears to be in much shorter supply today than it was just a few years ago.
Where are the jobs? Job creation has been the hot economic topic since the big downturn in 2008. The sooner we have full employment the sooner demand for goods and services will turn around and there will be a net upward pressure on wages. But in 2015 the rate of increase in jobs has slowed somewhat, barely hitting 200k net every month from a solid run of 220k the year before. What happened?
The data is even more confounding when you look at the net good news on jobs – that initial claims for unemployment per week are at an all-time low as a percent of total jobs. We’re not creating jobs as fast as we should, but we also aren’t losing them. Along with a large backlog of unfilled job postings there is substantial evidence that something is wrong. Is it a skills gap? Or something else?