The elusive bear

Ontario forests are full of bears, but many hikers and campers never see the elusive animals at all. These days, financial bears are just as hard to find. I know I’m not the only one puzzled by the buoyant mood among economists and financial writers in Canada — ex-Merrill Lynch economist David Rosenberg and the Other Reader are on my side — but we appear to be alone in our skepticism, in spite of a host of economic indicators and other signs that might be expected to temper the unbridled optimism:

* Home sales have hit highs in some of the same areas (OK, Toronto) where unemployment is at an 18-year high, and is above the national average. How does that make sense?

* Back to unemployment for a second. It rose more than expected in July. Breaking down the figures shows that the part of the workforce actively looking for work has shrunk; another huge number of people are self-employed. Having recently spent a couple of months being counted among the self-employed, I can assure you that it is not an indicator that people laid off from higher-wage positions are replacing their former incomes, or are actually starting viable new businesses. It’s often a stopgap measure to bring in more income than EI would provide while looking for a job in a tough market.

*The number of people collecting EI has ballooned. In Toronto, the number has doubled in a year.

* We have deflation. Economists are spinning the most recent CPI reading the same way they spun the inflation beforehand: strip out crazy energy prices, everything is pretty stable. Except now, as before, we all have to pay for gas, heating oil, etc. Bottom line: not all prices are deflating, but some are. Never a sign of economic health.

All the consumer spending in the world can’t convince me that all the rest of it doesn’t matter.