“We’re now coming up the other side,” was the basic message Fred Dickson, senior vice president and chief market strategist for D.A. Davidson and Co., had to share with a luncheon meeting of the Greater Bothell Chamber of Commerce Sept. 9 at Country Village’s Courtyard Hall.
Dickson said while the well-advertised economic slump is not over, there are numerous signs the worst is behind us and an overall recovery already has begun.
Often a guest speaker on financial topics for cable news network MSNBC among others, Dickson based his optimism at least partly on stock-market data. He said a year or so ago the market and the overall economy was hit with the “tsunami of the century.”
But he also said the market has popped back up about 50 percent in a short amount of time. Dickson said the market bottomed out March 9, but generally has been on the rebound ever since.
For example, Dickson said 487 of the stocks in the S&P 500 are trading above their March lows. Of those, 127 have doubled in price.
Later in his talk, Dickson mentioned an index of leading economic indicators — a favorite tool of his and, presumably others in the financial field — for gauging the economy’s condition.
For those not in the know, the areas considered include interest rates, consumer confidence, home sales and similar factors. Dickson said those factors virtually all went into the negative during the recession, but again are starting to show at least some signs of recovery.
“This is like a great big tanker,” Dickson said. “It takes a long time to get it up to any kind of speed.”
For the immediate future, Dickson sees slow but continued economic gains in 2010 as consumer credit remains constrained. He cautioned that investors and observers should expect and anticipate a few market “pullbacks.”
Unemployment levels represent one area where any recovery is going to arrive at a much slower pace, Dickson believes.
“The last thing to come out of recession is always employment,” he said.
Current levels are the highest since the early 1980s. He said employers often are hesitant to bring people back or hire new staff only to have to release them a short time later. With that in mind, he said many business owners may put off new hires until they are certain a full-scale economic rebound is in the works.
Dickson said one question he receives routinely is how the current situation compares to previous economic upheavals, most notably the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to Dickson’s figure, there really is no comparison.
Currently, unemployment is high, but sits at about 10 percent nationally. The figure was 25 percent or higher during the Depression. The gross national product presently is down about 1.0 percent; the Depression plummet was nearer 50 percent. During the Depression, the banking system failed virtually across the board. So far, there have been 115 bank failures during the recent economic turbulence. Dickson said there may be a few more minor collapses, but, again, he feels the worst is over.
Dickson said another common query he receives is whether or not federal bail-outs and other measures really are having any effect. He noted Washington D.C. has invested some $3 trillion in getting the economy back on its feet. Dickson also quickly added that’s a huge number he can’t quite wrap his mind around.
As for the effectiveness of how all those dollars have been spent, Dickson said financial markets have stabilized. He said at one point, banks weren’t even talking to each other for fear of failures.
“We’re past that,” he said.
On another front, Dickson added the recent Cash for Clunkers program gave the slumping auto industry a proverbial shot in the arm, though he isn’t convinced the increased sales there will be lasting ones.
Dickson seemed to sound at least one note of alarm, and that was in regard to the growing federal deficit. He said the government’s debt is increasing at the rate of $3 million a minute and will hit $1.6 trillion for the current fiscal year.
He further noted some 50 percent of Washington D.C.’s debt is owed to foreign governments, with China holding the largest note.
“The bottom line is these are big, big numbers and they are serious,” Dickson said.