Viewpoint: Gilding the bull market

If you read the business pages in major newspapers and listen to market reports on radio and television, you are being told that things are looking up, the recovery is at hand.

But a hard look at the numbers—which incidentally are being manipulated by the government-presents a much different picture.

Too many Americans are dangerously close to financial disaster, and too many don’t realize it. We are seeing more of our fellow citizens slipping into poverty.

New home sales are down; October figures were 3.5 percent below the seasonally adjusted figures for September. Retail and food service sales were down .3 percent in October. Manufacturing and trade inventories rose just .6 percent in the same month.

The nation’s trade deficit (the relationship between imports and exports) rose to a negative $41.3 billion in September as the country continued to import more and more goods.

We are all keenly aware of the loss of several million jobs as a result of trade agreements entered into by the last and the current administration.

Reuters reports U.S. corporations are boosting the pace in transferring well-paid technology jobs to India, China and other cheap labor countries, but they aren’t talking about it.

Morgan Stanley estimates the number of U.S. jobs exported to India will reach 150,000 in the next three years. Analysts say as many as 2 million technical jobs, such as programmers, software engineers and applications designers, will be gone overseas by 2014.

Companies like Microsoft, IBM, and AT&T Wireless are eager to reap the savings but are loathe to attract attention.

Jack Trout, a principal of Trout & Partners, said: “The problem is that companies aren’t sure if it is politically correct to talk about it. Nobody has come up with a way to spin it in a positive way.”

That’s a problem for publicly traded companies but job losses are a red hot issue as we inch toward a presidential election.

Offshore companies “are paying Chinese wages and selling at U.S. prices,” said Alan Tonelson of the U.S. Business and Industrial Council, a trade group for small business. “They’re not creating better living standards for America,” he added.

Bullish brokers, analysts and pundits gleefully pointed to recently released production figures as evidence that the economy was on the rise, and things were getting better and better.

Durable manufactured goods recorded a 14.8 percent increase in the third quarter. That means more output per hours worked.

What the numbers don’t tell you is that foreign-made sub-components and assemblies are on the rise and account for a lot of the increase while hours worked by American labor decline.

Small- and medium-size U.S. manufacturers aren’t getting increased orders, and they aren’t hiring in any numbers. The government’s report on the manufacturing sector states: “The hours of all persons in manufacturing have fallen for 13 consecutive quarters.”

More than a few Americans are carrying a staggering debt load with family budgets strained to the breaking point. Any additional stress can send many of them over the line into poverty. One food pantry in Rockford reports serving 1,900 families a month.

The stock market still suffers from imbalances remaining from the huge bubble of the late 1990s. These flaws are being worsened by increasing amounts of stimulation in the hope of staving off serious decline.

We’ve seen 13 cuts in interest rates, three major federal tax cuts, hundreds of billions of dollars in cash-outs on mortgage refinancing and a 33 percent drop in the dollar.

Uncorrected structural flaws will make us pay in the near future. These include a massive trade imbalance; record debt in relation to Gross Domestic Product; a low consumer savings rate, and a huge federal budget deficit.

More than one stock analyst has decreed very recently that stocks are not overvalued, yet stocks selling under 5 have climbed an average of 125 percent while stocks of companies that are losing money far outperformed those of companies consistently in the black. The S&P 500 is selling at 24 times estimated reported earnings.

Comstock Partners, a mutual fund and investment company, does not foresee a silver lining to the financial clouds on the horizon.

Comstock said: “Although an increase in inventory accumulation could bail out the (fourth) quarter, we see significant impediments to growth in 2004. This should prove exceedingly disappointing to a stock market that is already discounting a strong and lengthy recovery.”

So what are our elected officials doing to correct this situation? This year, despite the economy, Congress spent $23 billion on pork barrel projects; about $80 a person.

More people are being turned away from emergency aid because cities lack adequate resources while our “representatives” vote themselves hefty pay increases. But they will be back here bragging about all the wonderful things they have done to help us out. Studies show that 40 percent of the homeless population is families with children.

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