The new normal

After the barrage of happy-happy new year stories on the turnaround that’s no doubt just around the corner, some bracing blasts of common sense from some of the best financial bloggers around.

From the Cassandra Does Tokyo blog, an excellent rant about the “when things get back to normal” school of thought. When massive shifts happen, the old normal isn’t “normal” anymore. Are stocks cheap? How could it ever be possible to tell? The strategists, says Cassandra, seem:

to be implying that is was normal to extend credit as it was during the last eight years; that gains in asset prices (be they a a portrait of Dr Gachet, NYC apartments, Chelsea or Notting Hill pied-a-terres ?) are normal at somewhere nearer to the top of their seemingly almost-exponential three-decade rise; that it is normal that US households continue to live with negative rates of savings or consume en masse beyond their means; or cavalierly burn hydrocarbons at the elevated relative per-capita rates that they do presently; that past income-inequality, now rolled-up into massive eddies of wealth discrepancy that approach those which evoke those prevailing during the enclosures in England are normal, and that their sense of normalcy will swiftly return despite the continued pressure to the contrary upon the financial sector, and households to return to a normalcy of a much different mean than those of the recent past, which in their turn directly the impact the corporate sector with body blows from BOTH the cost and availability of their gearing and the ultimate demand for their products.

The whole thing is worth a read — being based in Japan, “Cassandra” has seen first-hand how significantly economies can change after massive bubbles pop.

On Infectious Greed, Paul Kedrosky puts paid to the idea that there’s any average length of a recession or bear market:

There have been nine recession-induced bear markets in the U.S. since the Depression. They have ranged from just under 100 days long, to a little over 900 days. The average (there’s that dangerous word) is 486 days, with a whopping standard deviation (another dangerous word) of 250 days. In other words, based on this tiny data set — and that is a big part of the problem — we could expect (ahem) recessions to last anywhere from 0 (okay, -12 actually) to 1,000 days. But it’s all crap, from applying averages, to applying standard deviations, to sample sizes, but people pretend it isn’t.

Repeat after me: We have no idea.