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Another Perma-Bear Abandons Ship: James Grant This Time

James Grant penned a commentary in the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal (September 19, 2009).  James is always worth reading (Grant's Interest Rate Observer).  He has been a moderately bearish commentator for as long as I have been reading his work (10 years), most often in Barron's articles.  He has bemoaned the high consumer and national debt and the very low (even negative) personal savings rate in America.  For this, he has called for a weak dollar and higher interest rates for the past decade.

That he flys in the face of his brethren bears is of no small consequence to me.  Normally James Grant's perspective is closely aligned with so-called "bond vigilantes" like Bill Gross at PIMCO and perma-Bears like Bill Fleckenstein or Peter Schiff.  Those other dollar / interest rate watchers are still looking for a flat to declining dollar and moribund economy.  Grant really is making a departure from the Bear club here, which is good because if for no other reason than it is contrary (though I am sure bear readers will deny this).

He was early to call the stock market decline, as far back as 2005.  But this is news: now he sees it is time to become Bullish.  James Grant is leaving the Bear camp (maybe six months late).   Here is an excerpt from his article.  Click here to read the entire piece from the WSJ.

Though we can't see into the future, we can observe how people are preparing to meet it. Depleted inventories, bloated jobless rolls and rock-bottom interest rates suggest that people are preparing for to meet it from the inside of a bomb shelter.

The Great Recession destroyed confidence as much as it did jobs and wealth. Here was a slump out of central casting. From the peak, inflation-adjusted gross domestic product has fallen by 3.9%. The meek and mild downturns of 1990-91 and 2001 (each, coincidentally, just eight months long, hardly worth the bother), brought losses to the real GDP of just 1.4% and 0.3%, respectively. The recession that sunk its hooks into the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter of 2007 has set unwanted records in such vital statistical categories as manufacturing and trade inventories (the steepest decline since 1949), capacity utilization (lowest since at least 1967) and industrial production (sharpest fall since 1946)......

.....By rallying, equities and corporate bonds not only anticipate recovery, but they also help to bring it to fruition. By opening their arms wide to such previously unfinanceable businesses as AMR Corp., parent of American Airlines, and Delta Air Lines Inc., the newly confident credit markets are implementing their own stimulus program. "Reflexivity" is the three-dollar word coined by the speculator George Soros to describe the dual effect of market oscillations. Not only does the rise and fall of the averages reflect economic reality, but it also changes it. One year ago, the Wall Street liquidation stopped world commerce in its tracks. Today's bull markets are helping to revive it.

I promised to be bullish, and I am (for once)—bullish on the prospects for unscripted strength in business activity. So, too, is the Economic Cycle Research Institute, New York, which was founded by the late Geoffrey Moore and can trace its intellectual heritage back to the great business-cycle theorist Wesley C. Mitchell. The institute's long leading index of the U.S. economy, along with supporting sub-indices, are making 26-year highs and point to the strongest bounce-back since 1983. A second nonconformist, the previously cited Mr. Darda, notes that the last time a recession ravaged the labor market as badly as this one has, the years were 1957-58 —after which, payrolls climbed by a hefty 4.5% in the first year of an ensuing 24-month expansion. Which is not to say, he cautions, that growth this time will match that pace, only that growth is likely to surprise by its strength, not weakness.

And that is my case, too. The world is positioned for disappointment. But, in economic and financial matters, the world rarely gets what it expects. Pigou had humanity's number. The "error of pessimism" is born the size of a full-grown man—the size of the average adult economist, for example.