Think of the U.S. economy as one big roasted turkey that amply fed the family members gathered round the Thanksgiving table. Everybody took their favorite parts – white meat for Mom and Dad, dark meat for Grandpa Joe, drumsticks for the kids – and then the huge bird was served as leftovers. Here's a quick rundown of this year's economic leftovers:
Economy Pot Pie à la Fed – The Fed's head chefs have concocted a pot pie that they claim is steaming hot from inflation pressures. In other words, the Fed is always fighting the last war, which is, was and ever will be, inflation. Fed policymakers talk about inflation even as Wal-Mart (WMT), the nation's largest retailer, cuts generic drug prices and grocery items; as U.S. homesellers drastically reduce prices on their houses to get someone to buy them; and when it takes $1 billion to make it onto Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. (Millionaires are now a dime a dozen.) That's beginning to sound a lot like deflation. And we all know that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has studied the Great Depression and will do whatever it takes to avert one now. But there's no guarantee that the Fed can.
"People often ask how the Fed can possibly be caught off guard enough to allow deflation to happen," writes market analyst Bob Prechter of Elliott Wave International. "The answer is speed. A debt implosion and across-the-board financial collapse will happen too fast for the Fed to do anything about it, and the unwinding of leverage and the devastating institutional results could be so complicated and shocking that the Federal Reserve Board won't even have time to figure out what to do." [The Elliott Wave Theorist, October 27, 2006]
Dealmaker's Turkey Tetrazzini – So how do you use your noodle to create a new economic dish? Take $52 billion in mergers and acquisitions that were announced on Tuesday, add it to the other billions in deals announced in 2006, and you've got yourself Dealmaker's Turkey Tetrazzini. This year will go down as the No. 1 year for deals, with $3.4 trillion being exchanged so far to buy and sell companies. But just because these deals have been made doesn't necessarily mean they will benefit the shareholders. For example, Blackstone Group will buy Equity Office Properties, the largest U.S. office real estate investment trust, and take it private. As one of my finance-savvy friends who works with REITs wrote me: "Personally, I think the only people that are going to make money off this are the Blackstone firm (its partners, employees and the institutional investors that are its Limited Partners) & EOP executives."
Housing Hash – Take the chopped-up remains of a turkey, add potatoes and a few other ingredients and you've made a hash. The same as the Fed has made a hash of the housing market by pumping it up with too much credit and then letting it fall down by raising interest rates. Not to mention the mortgage lenders who created bizarre mortgage schemes (interest-only loans, negative amortization) to lure people who couldn't afford a down payment or a normal monthly payment. So now we've got foreclosures on the rise and "For Sale" signs never coming down from properties. The latest numbers from the National Association of Realtors confirm what the news reports have been saying for months. People aren't buying as many new homes or existing homes. In the summer, sales of existing homes fell in 38 states and were down 12.7 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
Cold Turkey Consolidation Salad – Delta Air Lines, a mainstay of the airline industry (and the metro Atlanta economy), may find itself going cold turkey and leading the way in consolidations following Thanksgiving. U.S. Airways (LCC) has made its second bid to merge much more unfriendly than its first, which was ignored by Delta's management last spring. With Delta still in bankruptcy, though, it will be tempting for many of its debtors to decide that a buyout bid is the best way to recoup their money.
Deficit Turkey Sandwich – Finally, the old stand-by: A turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce. In terms of the U.S. economy, what we've got is a deficit-spending sandwich dripping cranberry-red stains all over the U.S. budget. To my mind, the biggest turkeys are politicians who spend more than the tax monies the nation takes in, leaving the mess for our children and grandchildren to clean up. If you want to go to war, find a way to pay for it. Don't leave it as an outstanding debt for the kids to pay off. If you pass a law to build a fence on the border between Mexico and the United States, then find a way to fund it. If we could only build a section of fence around the Capitol each time Congress passes laws it doesn't fund, we might be able to keep them contained.
Susan C. Walker writes for Elliott Wave International, a market forecasting and technical analysis company. She has been an associate editor with Inc. magazine, a newspaper writer and editor, an investor relations executive and a speechwriter for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. She is a graduate of Stanford University.