What a difference seven months make.
In October, as the unwinding of our world's economy became crystal clear, so many perceived it as 'temporary.' "The prey must make its way through the python, then all will be well in the end," they seemed to say.
And perhaps that is entirely true. 2010, 2011, 2012... I suppose things could return to 'normal' by then.
But I think not.
I think what's done is done, what was was, and we've entered a New World Order. I believe the 'unwinding' was, in fact, a re-calibrating.
I believe the waterline of the former market was, for all intents and purposes... former. And we may not see Dow Jones at 14,000+ for another generation. Call me a heretic, an idiot, or a doomsday-sourpuss-naysayer; I've been called worse. But I believe the snake oil salesmen who are selling fiction disguised as hope are unrealistically optimistic or altogether deceptive. (I see the difference as their 'knowledge' x their 'intent.')
I attended an economic conference several weeks ago, and ALL the economists were prophesying, "This will blow over in a few months. Q3 2009 will see a return to business as usual," guess-hypothesis-theory-lie. I'm sorry; I just don't buy it. While I fully understand FDR's lamentations about 'fear itself' and the need for positive psychology to lead the market, I believe it's time to come to terms with reality and adapt rather than hope for stable sand castles found primarily in Utopia.
I imagine the market as we knew it before -- with easy loans, bottomless debt, and raging home sales -- is a thing of the past.
Is the bottom near? Perhaps, though I agree with Warren Buffett's sentiment that we probably won't experience it until the Government stops reaching in and tweaking the knobs. At some point, probably where 'rescue' and 'reality' intersect, we will indeed experience a legitimate transition, but I don't think 'bottoming, leveling out, and climbing' are synomymous with 'back to business as usual.' (At least, not for everyone. One of the great ironies of this current economy is the disparity between the haves and have-nots. While many people and clients and states I interact with are STARVING, many others are THRIVING. On the one extreme I hear, "The sky is falling!" while on the other extreme I hear, "Crisis, what crisis? We have so much money we don't know where to spend it all!")
Some might argue that I am sounding a bit like Chicken Little, but I believe that history and conventional wisdom will reveal that I am among an unintentional chorus of Shepherd Boys who would rather be wrong. And by unintentional, I mean to say, "non-economic types" who wind up being in the majority and on the side of right, not because of knowledge, but because of intuition.
I believe we're entering an era of Business as Unusual or, said another way, The 'New' Economy is The Economy.
2,600 years ago, the Greek slave, Aesop, wrote well over 200 brief fables, and many of them specifically for children (though they apply to most everyone). Among them is The Shepherd Boy & the Wolf, more commonly remembered as The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The theme of the story is best recalled in the final line of the fable: "Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth."
Only time will reveal whether the 'renowned and expert economists' are right (and Q3 2009 will reveal a miraculous, magical, and unheralded 'market bounce' that eventually leads us back to earlier Dow Jones health, employment, and worldwide productivity as before) or if those who said once and twice (without knowing why), "the world is changed for a generation" will be deemed right.
Again, I would prefer to be wrong.
At this point in life, most of us have endured one sort of surgery or another. I equate today's Shepherd Boys as those who scratch at our scar tissue. What was once sensitive and irritated (October 2008) is slowly becoming thick and numb (May 2009). The 'jump' in our step has faded a bit, we've ignored the alarms for too long, and many are awakening and coming to grips with a potentially new reality. A sense of, "Okay. Um. So, this REALLY isn't going away next month? It wasn't just a drill? All righty then, let's see... what shall I do now?"
History has an enviable way of efficiently and accurately sorting the misfits and malcontents from the rest. I know most of us would LOVE to see a return to a pre-9/11 or pre-2009 economic world order, but the hairs on the back of my neck just don't sense that coming anytime soon. Do yours?
Meanwhile, whether it's only a few years or an entire generation plus, I suppose we should return to our work, reprioritize, rebalance, and find ways to survive through and thrive within a minor economic winter. There is plenty of work to be done, there are many fields still lacking qualified applicants, and as Nature reminds us, life is binary. It's either 'find a way to Grow' time, or 'embrace the slumber that has no end' (e.g., die).
I elect to fight, as I'm sure you do, too. It's buckle-down time. Not for an illusory and fabled 'comeback' of lore, but in pursuit of creating a more sustainable future for our children, our customers, our constituents, and all those we hope will follow.
Onward. Perge. Semper fidelis. It's on. Let's roll. Bring it. Go time. All that jazz.