Thursday, October 9, 2008

What Now?

I’m not a big fan of doomsday scenarios, but what has transpired in last week is nothing less than astonishing. The markets worldwide are in free fall. Loonie just lost 10 cents in a week (my call of going into USD was pretty good I think). The shine is about to wear off of the strength of the Canadian economy. The commodities will fall further and could push Western Canada into a deep slump. Ironically, Eastern Canada could benefit again in the backdrop of a weaker loonie. This scenario is increasingly likely to play out as the deflationary forces strengthen their grip on world economy and hapless central bankers and debt ridden governments and consumers watch the show like meek spectators.

Master Card recently recorded a 9.5 per cent fall in US gasoline sales in September 2008 versus last year’s numbers. Canadian sales held up a little better and were down only 5.4 per cent in August. I won't be surprised if sales fall further off in the coming months. October is likely to be worse. People who have just taken a 50 per cent of more haircut on their 401k and RRSP’s won’t exactly be jumping out to vacations and burn gasoline in gas guzzlers. Don’t expect Asia to be savior either-Japan is falling into its gazillionth recession in the last 20 years, China is slowing down and India isn’t fairing too nicely either.
As unemployment rises further in the US (some people are forecasting a double digit unemployment rate by the time everything settles), there will be further reduction in gasoline and commodity demand. This demand destruction will outstrip any, if at all, demand increases from the emerging economies.

The big questions are- if the clock rewinds to 2004 in terms of asset prices, commodity prices and job opportunities are you sufficiently prepared? Can anyone even imagine another bust in Alberta when most of the people around you are drowning in debt and falsely insulated by the 'home equity' gains. Or by the illusion of 'secure jobs' in the Oil/Gas industries and pretty much everything else that services it. I can't think of any industry that will pick up the slack employment wise if Oil and Gas sector fizzles again. The government depends too much on the tax and royalty revenues that basically stem from the oil and gas industry.
Too bad that Alberta manages to kill all the diversification that occurs during the bust years in less than 3 years of a boom…
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