It's Groundhog Day, and I couldn't give two hoots whether that porky little marmot foretells the weather for the next six weeks. I just want to know whether Punxsutawney Bernanke saw his shadow this morning, forecasting six more weeks of economic deluge. I'm willing to hang my hat on the slightest indicator of hope these days.
I'm kidding, of course. How long will this recession last? The easy, honest, and accurate answer is that no one knows. Really. No one. I've always liked Peter Lynch's candid observation that:
There are 60,000 economists in the U.S., many of them employed full-time trying to forecast recessions and interest rates, and if they could do it successfully twice in a row, they'd all be millionaires by now ... But, as far as I know, most of them are still gainfully employed, which ought to tell us something.
So true. For the tens of thousands of economists and other market seers throwing out predictions over the past years, only a handful got it right: Nouriel Roubini, Peter Schiff, Meredith Whitney, John Paulson, and maybe a few more. Probably about the same number you'd expect to get it right by random chance.
Even so, plenty of trends today paint a clear picture of where we're heading. Some of the more-relevant topics:
- An economic stimulus package valued in the neighborhood of $800 billion. Some think the proposed bill is a pork-laden disaster that won't do nearly enough to create jobs. Exhibit A: $650 million for digital TV conversion vouchers, and $150 million for honeybee insurance. I rest my case.
- A complete breakdown of the banking system led by megabanks like Citigroup
(NYSE:C)and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). These companies would likely be toast if it weren't for taxpayer bailouts.
- A consumer-based economy caught between a rock and a hard place. People have to stop spending insane amounts of money they never really had in the first place, yet that same cut in spending is all but certain to draw out the economic pain, since 70% of GDP is derived from consumer spending. We saw this cutback firsthand last week, as Procter & Gamble
(NYSE:PG)and American Express (NYSE:AXP)reported dismal results.
- A government loading up mountains upon mountains of national debt -- $10.63 trillion and counting, to be exact. Someday -- who knows when -- the global appetite for U.S. debt will top out, and the endless spigot of cash the Treasury has exploited will fade. Once that happens, say hello to the same type of interest-rate agony that underscored the early '80s.
Again, no one knows when (or how) these trends will pan out. New variables pop up every day. Regardless, in honor of Groundhog Day, we want to know when you think the current recession will end. Six weeks? Six years? Take a moment to weigh in in the Fool poll below, and share your thoughts in the comment section if you care to elaborate.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel owns shares of Procter & Gamble. Bank of America is a former Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. American Express is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. The Fool owns shares of American Express and Procter & Gamble. The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.