Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Have you been watching the economy?

Not the markets, which have whipsawed violently over the last few days, but the economy. There is some good news.

First, we have some indications that credit is starting to flow again. The Libor has retreated for two whole day in a row and banks are starting to figure out that not everyone is up to their armpits in sub-prime mortgages.

Second, the markets themselves seem to be settling a bit. In the US, we're not seeing days where things are down 5+ percent or up 3+ percent. The swings have damped out to some extent.

Third, I've seen a number of banks advertising to inform their customers (and potential customers, I'd wager) that they are solvent, quoting their ratings from various agencies, especially ones that are independent, such as the ratings at TheStreet.com.

As I said, this is all good news. Remember, however, that it's just little bits of good news in a flow of things that you should be worried about.

Risk and uncertainty still abound, and all it will take is one bad piece of news (Credit Card default up 20%; film at 11!) and we're going to see lenders clamp down again. If that should happen, market volatility can be expected to increase, perhaps drastically.

Those bank ads I mentioned could backfire as well. If people who are concerned about their banks stability (rightly or wrongly) start moving money en masse to institutions they believe are "safer", that sort of thing can feed on itself and become a bank run.

For now, consider this as an interlude. Make your moves wisely and after due consideration. If you want to reenter the markets (brave person there), do so with caution. Hedge your bets.

Cash is still your friend, and I expect it to remain so for a while. Precious metals (and I mean in your hands, not in some trading account) are a good hedge for your cash.

Be sure that you're prepared to weather a time where goods in stores might not be as available as they are now. This is good advice anytime; doubly so now.

Also remember that our elections are November 4, and that no matter who is the winner, upset somewhere is inevitable. If there is no clear winner, the upset could be more widespread--and the longer clarity is delayed, the worse it may get.

In short, enjoy this breather, and use it wisely.

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