May 14, 2009

Global Market Comments
May 14, 2009
Featrured Trades (GM)

1) I'll tell you what GM's problem is. My dad was a lifetime GM customer, religiously  buying a new Oldsmobile every five years. Once he even flew to Detroit for a factory tour and drove his new prize home. Thirty years ago I told him he was doing GM no favors by buying their cars, and the only way to force them to improve a tragically deteriorating product was to buy better made German and Japanese vehicles. This was right after the State of California forced auto makers to install seatbelts on new cars. Airbags and ABS brake systems were still years away. His response, "I didn't fight the Japanese for four years so I could buy their cars." (He was a Marine). GM's problem is that my Dad passed away seven years ago. Of the original 17 million WWII veterans, 1,500 a day are dying, and there are only 1.5 million left. All of them loved Detroit because it built great Jeeps, Sherman tanks, and half tracks that brought them home from harm's way. Their kids prefer German, Japanese, Italian, Korean, and soon, Chinese and Indian vehicles. It is no coincidence that GM's problems really accelerated with the passing of the "greatest generation." During the last 35 years, when Japan's share of the US car market climbed from 1% to 40%, I begged GM to mend their ways and build a quality, price competitive product that Americans wanted to buy. They answer was always the same: "Nobody can tell GM how to build cars." Maybe someone should tell them.

2) Iam more convinced than ever that real estate has another 25% to fall, and best case, it is dead money for another five to ten years. The New York Times produced some insightful data on inflation adjusted home prices for the last120 years, which baselines at a $100,000 for a single family home in 1890. Few people realize how superheated the recent real estate bubble really got. Past bubbles very consistently peaked at $125,000 in 1896, 1979, and 1989. This last one peaked at $205,000 in 2005, almost double the previous record highs. And while we have dropped 34% since then, to $135,000, we haven't even fallen tothe past all time highs yet. If you look at historical lows, my call for a further 25% slump looks positively bullish. We saw lows consistently around$66,000 in 1920, 1932, and 1942. Postwar lows came in at $105,000 in 1976,1983, and 1996. These figures suggest the best case low is down a further 28%,and the worst case is down another 51%. I think I'll go find something else to trade.

3) After a merciless torrent of budget cuts, California's public education system has been bled dry, and now ranks 50th in the US, down from number one when I attended classes here a half century ago (oops!). The golden state now spends more on its 170,000 prisoners that on educating the young. When I recently tried to get Fedex to send a package to Japan, the clerk thought it was a city on the east coast and refused to take it because she couldn't find the zip code. I ended up mailing it. Those trying to engineer an economic recovery in California don't understand that you can't become globally competitive with a dumbed down work force.

4) The migration of American business to online formats is accelerating, with over 1,000 new business being created every day. Internet advertising continues to go from strength to strength, and is one of the few growth sectors of the economy. The Interactive Advertising Bureau reported that online advertising grew 10.6% last year to $23.4 billion in a year when the total advertising market shrank from $132 billion to $125 billion. It now ranks as the third largest ad distributor in the US, after newspapers ($34.4 billion) and TV ($28.8 billion). Search advertising dominated, with 45% of the total. Video adverting was the fastest growing sector, up 123%. Display advertising managed 8% growth, even after the collapsing economy caused a very week fourth quarter.


"Cash bonuses on Wall Street are going to become a dinosaur," said Jon Corzine, governor of New Jersey, and former chairman of Goldman Sachs.