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A lot of stock investors spend their days mindlessly following the ebb and flow of red and green tickers on their computer screens. Me? I prefer to mindlessly follow the ebb and flow of good and bad news as it appears on the wire services.
Take just one hour yesterday, for example. As I scanned the wires, two items popped up -- and neither one was good news:
Item No. 1
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) is an idiot. The DOE didn't say that in so many words, of course. But the analyst that famously exulted at the prospect of $200-a-barrel oil just a few months ago can't be happy to hear that the DOE now "predicts" a $101 average price for this year, and $63 in 2009.
Item No. 2
Meanwhile, over at Wachovia Bank (NYSE: WB ) , the economists spent the morning offering sacrifices to the Oracle of Unemployment. The verdict just came down from Delphi, and -- you'd better sit down for this -- things are going to get about 50% worse before they get better.
Wachovia predicts that the Great Recession of 2008 will rival those of 1973 and 1981 in severity. It will, Wachovia says, slash GDP for four quarters in succession, drop the bottom out of consumer demand, and push U.S. unemployment to its highest peak since 1983 -- 9% at the nadir in 2010.
Bearing in mind the caveat that economists are human and -- rightly or wrongly -- tend to project the recent past into the distant future, the DOE and Wachovia projections sure sound bad. Worse, they tally up perfectly. Fewer people working means fewer people buying dinosaur juice from ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) and ConocoPhillips (NYSE: COP ) . And lower demand means lower prices for oil.
On the one hand, this could be good news for consumers -- those of 'em that still have jobs, that is. As oil prices fall, we could see a repeal of the fuel surcharges that have popped up everywhere from FedEx (NYSE: FDX ) rate sheets to Papa John's (Nasdaq: PZZA ) pizza delivery prices.
On the other hand, it's probably lousy news for investors like you and me. Unemployment checks and food stamps are lovely while they last. But they don't fund as many shopping sprees at the local Best Buy (NYSE: BBY ) as do paychecks from the steadily and lucratively employed. (Did I mention that Best Buy also warned yesterday morning?) If the analysts at the DOE and Wachovia are right, consumer demand is headed into the ditch, and it'll be taking consumer discretionary stocks right along with it.
Buckle up, people. Sounds like this is gonna be a long ride, and not a whole lot of fun.