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House on Ice

The quote which begins Hussman’s commentary is, in my view, the absolute, undeniable truth about bad banks….

House on Ice
John P. Hussman, Ph.D.

“If you have bad banks then you very urgently want to clean up your banks because bad banks go only one way: they get worse. In the end every bank is a fiscal problem. When you have bad banks, it is in a political environment where it is totally understood that the government is going to bail them out in the end. And that’s why they are so bad, and that’s why they get worse. So cleaning up the banks is an essential counterpart of any attempt to have a well functioning economy. It is a counterpart of any attempt to have a dull, uninteresting macroeconomy. And there is no excuse to do it slowly because it is very expensive to postpone the cleanup. There is no technical issue in doing the cleanup. It’s mostly to decide to start to grow up and stop the mess.”

MIT Economist Rudiger Dornbusch, November 1998

On the surface, the U.S. economy is gradually recovering. Based on mean reversion to potential GDP (which generally occurs over a 4-year horizon absent an intervening recession), we would expect GDP growth over the coming 4-year period to average 3.8%, with average monthly employment growth of 200,000 jobs. This would be my “benchmark” expectation if the U.S. and international banking systems were “clean.” However, my concern is that the surface U.S. recovery is built over a foundation that is vulnerable to further strains. If our policy makers had made proper decisions over the past two years to clean up banks, restructure debt, and allow irresponsible lenders to take losses on bad loans, there is no doubt in my mind that we would be quickly on the course to a sustained recovery, regardless of the extent of the downturn we have experienced. Unfortunately, we have built our house on a ledge of ice.


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