The Dow Jones Industrial Average today briefly touched the 14000 mark, before falling slightly. As I write, it’s hovering right around that level, the first time it’s done so since late 2007. The broader S&P 500 is at a five-year high, about 3 percent off its all-time peak in October 2007. The Nasdaq is at a 10-year high, though it’s significantly lower than its tech-bubble peak. In all, though, these major indices finally are back to roughly where they were before the housing crash and Great Recession (as long as we don’t adjust them for inflation, that is).
Yet, earlier today, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced the unemployment rate had ticked upward to 7.9 percent even though more people had stopped looking for work than found a job. At January’s rate of job growth (157,000 net jobs created), it would take until at least 2025 to regain pre-recession employment levels. At the rate for all of 2012 (an upwardly revised 181,000), it would take “only” until 2022, a decade and a half after employment peaked.
And yesterday, the Commerce Department said the economy shrank in the fourth quarter of 2012, the first negative quarter since mid-2009. The economy is an estimated 14 percent smaller than it would have been if it had grown since 2008 at the long-term average of 3.1 percent a year. That’s some $2.25 trillion of economic production that never came into existence.
The reason for continued market advances in the face of sluggish economic news might be summarized by this quote from the Wall Street Journal:
“Any not-bad news is helping this market,” said Jonathan Corpina, senior managing partner at Meridian Equity Partners, a New York brokerage. “If we get great news, good news, or okay news, it’s still going to make our screens green.”
“Not-bad” is not exactly indicative of a boom. If this quarter were to repeat last quarter’s performance, the above numbers are where the Obama Recovery would have left us: barely back to zero for investors, still well below it for job-seekers and economic growth.
This is the reality wrought by the primary economic policy of the past four years — trying to jump-start the private sector via government spending and monetary expansion. All the spending and expansion hasn’t translated into robust private-sector growth. Four years later, there’s little reason to believe a boom is just around the corner.
– By Kyle Wingfield