Monday, November 17, 2008

Welcome to the New World

We are back after spending a week in the US. The US has changed quite a bit since our last visit almost a year ago. From waitresses in Manchester, New Hampshire who offered suggestions on getting special combo deals for breakfast as ‘every cent counts’, to the sales clerks in Wrentham, MA who hugged me to buy lots of things on the Veteran days sales, it seems like the deflation reflected only in the asset prices so far has finally found its way into consumer items as well. Hotels have become a lot cheaper as well. We stayed in decent Holiday Inn and Mariott rooms for less than $70. Of course, unlike most Canadian hotels, these were large, nicely furnished rooms with flat screen TVs and included breakfast. In booming West though, you only get a roof over your head for this much price, that is if you are lucky.

A retail sales associate in Nashua mall checked on me at least three times to make sure I found what I was looking for. Obviously, with low sales volumes, everybody is scared of losing their job. And what better way to ensure job security than actually doing what you are paid for! What a novel concept. I don’t really recall sales reps being this good in the last ten years. Of course, Albertans are still living in their fantasy land and the nonchalance of sales reps is still very conspicuous in almost every place where I shop. While taking the delivery of my Accord I casually asked the sales manager if their sales were declining and she remarked, “Yeah, there’s a little slow down, as some people see all this gloom in the US and get worried. But it’s their economy and not Canadian economy!”
Of course, she will be learning some painful lessons in economics and firmly grasp that ‘we are all dependent on the US economy’ the coming months as oil prices drop below $50 in the coming weeks and months.
A friend of mine who has family in India says things are getting gloomier there by the day. Perusal of the economic press there talks about major reduction in workforce, fall in real estate, stocks and pretty much every other asset class.
Remember the decoupling theory? Nobody wants to talk about it anymore. It is in graveyard along with the titans of Wall street. It was the ray of hope for the world after the US housing bust, even though the entire world’s growth was piggybacked on the insatiable US (and perhaps other first world) consumers. Remember India was going to save Alberta. And China too. Now that these countries are looking for their own saviors, who is going to save Alberta? Yes, the OPEC production cuts. But didn't we have the second largest reserves in the world? Can't we do something about it? I guess almost every oil company is going to do something about it and the answer won't be to the liking of anyone whose fortunes are tied to high oil prices.

When I look back at things, I could never have imagined they would get this bad. I thought the biggest swindlers and crooks on Wall Street still had everything in control. But I guess with TARP firmly showing up on their balance sheets, they couldn’t care less for the fate of the main street or the rest of the world.

In the coming months and years(hope not), those who possess cash will be in a lot better shape than those who don't. The inflationary period characterized by too much money chasing too few goods (houses, stocks, oil, cars, labour, art work, RVs, boats, carry trade currencies) is definitely over. In the new world, cold cash will rein supreme and those who possess it will have the upper hand over those who have no cash but possess too much of stuff (stocks, cars, houses, debt, art work, RVs, boats etc). The latter group unfortunately represents bulk of world’s population today (exceptions in some parts of Europe, Asia etc).
Too bad nobody in Canada will wake anyone up on what’s about to be unleashed on everyone pretty soon-government hiring cuts, tax hikes (GST going back to 7%, when?), budget deficits, falling loonie, house prices cut in half, high unemployment….
After all, it's only today that the economists in the US have managed to agree that the US is in a recession. So much for the foresight and wisdom of the dismal scientists.
The list is long and painful. Only those who were characterized as the doom and gloomers (including yours truly) who have had nothing but cash in their account for the last several years have been proven right. Not that I’m happy about it.
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