Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Another measure of fear (4)

Markets continue to be extremely pessimistic about the future, and this chart is one reason why. This is a measure of commodity shipping costs. As recently as last June, strong global growth collided with a dearth of shipping capacity to produce sky-high prices. Today, shippers are idling ships and slowing the speed at which they travel. Global commerce has slowed sharply as uncertainty grips nearly everyone. If global commerce actually ground to a halt this would replicate the conditions that led to the depression of the 1930s.

Consumer confidence numbers released today plunged to their lowest level ever, and the data go back to 1967. Everyone is scared, everyone is pulling back.

The Smoot-Hawley tariffs sparked a global tariff war which shut down commerce back then, but nothing like that has happened today. It's mainly fear generated by the panic in financial markets. Markets can right themselves given time, and confidence can be restored. We don't have to undo any nasty legislation. It shouldn't be too hard to get things going again.

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