1/30/2013 5:44 PM ET|
Is the recovery over?
The first negative GDP print since 2009 has confounded the bulls. And there is more pain coming.
For the first time since the recession ended in the middle of 2009, the U.S. economy contracted at the end of last year. Fourth-quarter GDP growth fell to -0.1% from a 3.1% rise in the third quarters, surprising the optimists so focused on Dow 14,000. As I've been saying for weeks, the fundamentals didn't justify the market melt up. And eventually, fundamentals matter.
The optimists are already trying to dismiss the report as a fluke since a large part of the drop was connected to a 22% fall in defense spending. It's no fluke: In a month, the Pentagon will likely be hit with another budget cut worth 9.4% of its discretionary spending, or more than $50 billion a year.
And it's about to get worse.
People forget that it was government spending -- in the guise of bailouts, unemployment benefits, and stimulus -- that bolstered the economy in the early stages of the recovery when business and consumer spending was in the doldrums. Now, with businesses nervous and consumers suffering from tax hikes, higher health care costs, and still stagnant wages, the government's fiscal mess is forcing it to pull back.
The bulk of the fiscal cliff -- the tax hikes and spending cuts worth 5% of GDP -- was merely postponed. The fact remains that the government has no choice but to tighten the budget, or else it faces the threat of additional credit rating downgrades.
So people should get used to weak government spending contributions to GDP.
What about consumers, who contributed +1.5% to the Q4 GDP number? Not only is confidence down hard on the payroll tax hike, but they are about to be hit with higher gasoline prices and higher rental costs as well. Moreover, the chart below shows how government budget cuts will impact consumer spending -- which the bulls and political operatives are grabbing onto as the bright spot in the report -- since government transfer benefits (unemployment, etc.) have been a more important factor than work wages.
All of this will drag on consumption expenditures later this year and reverse the one bright spot in the report.
And businesses started pulling back on inventories in Q4 in response to uncertain demand from consumers. This should continue as well.
A second negative GDP print in Q1, amidst budget battles and tax hikes, would technically throw the U.S. economy back into recession -- joining most of Europe, Japan, and soon, the United Kingdom.
If you average out the last two GDP prints, you get an economy stumbling along at a 1.5% annual growth rate. An economy that isn't ready for the fiscal cuts and political turmoil that awaits in 2013. Already, the regional Fed manufacturing surveys have been terrible. Home sales are down. It's not looking pretty.
In response, I'm adding new short exposure to my Edge Letter Sample Portfolio via Alpha Natural Resources (ANR) and U.S. Steel (X). I'm also doubling up on the VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX (TVIX) with the CBOE Volatility Index ($VIX) deeply oversold and rounding higher.
Disclosure: Anthony has recommended X short, ANR short, and TVIX long to his clients.
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