Thursday, April 22, 2010
I didn't sleep at all last night.
Sometime around midnight, my 8-year-old son crawled into bed with me and my wife. When he noticed my eyes were open, he asked me a question that sent my heart racing...
"Daddy," he asked, "why would a person kill himself?"
My son had overheard a conversation between my wife and a friend. They were talking about a neighbor who, burdened by financial concerns, drove to a nearby reservoir. As he watched the sun set behind the hills, he stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.
I picked up my son, carried him out to the kitchen table, poured him a giant glass of milk, and tried as best I could to answer his question...
"Son," I said, "sometimes a person forgets how valuable his life is. He gets overwhelmed by temporary concerns and problems and he doesn't remember that God gave him the strength to overcome any challenge."
"But Grandpa's neighbor was a strong man," my son replied, "and he did the same thing."
Two months ago, my father-in-law's neighbor – a 60-year-old police officer, six months away from retirement – came home early, pulled his car into the garage, took out his service revolver, and ended his life. We found out later he was suffering financially. He was upside-down on a number of real estate deals and on the verge of bankruptcy.
"You're right, Carson" I said. "Mr. Owen was a strong man. I think he just forgot how strong he was."
"You won't forget, will you, Daddy?" Carson asked.
His words hit me like a Louisville Slugger across the forehead, and I finally realized why he had trouble sleeping. "Sweetheart," I said, "I'm Hercules. I'm the strongest man in the world, and I'll never forget it. You're strong, too. And so is your brother, and so is Mommy. Your grandparents are strong. Your friends are strong, and your friends' families are strong, too. And if anybody starts to forget it, we'll be sure to remind them, OK?"
"OK, Daddy" he said, and his arms squeezed around my neck as I tucked him back into bed. I sat with him, holding his hand as he fell asleep.
You may wonder why I'm sharing this story with you in a financial publication. After all, it doesn't appear to have anything to do with the stock market. But it does.
Many people ask me why I continue to lean bearish on the economy and the stock market while the government reports numbers that are clearly bullish. My only response is that what I see doesn't jive with the government's version.
In my entire life, I've never known anyone who committed suicide over financial concerns. Yet, in the past few months, it has happened four times (two times that my son is aware of).
I live in an affluent area of Northern California, and I'm seeing multiple foreclosures in my neighborhood. Nearby businesses are going under, and "For Lease" signs are popping up like mushrooms after a springtime rainstorm. Nobody I know is expanding their businesses. In fact, they're still contracting – although not at the pace they were six months ago.
So when the government reports a 5% increase in Gross Domestic Product, I'm skeptical. I don't see it.
The smartest and most successful businessmen I know are desperate. "Times have changed," they say. "There's just no demand. We're almost giving our stuff away and there still aren't any takers."
And yet the government insists things are getting better.
Something doesn't make sense.
Believe me... I'd love to be wrong here. There's nothing I'd like better than to show my kids a country and a world that is productive and prosperous. But that's not what they're seeing, either.
It will return someday. We will have an economy that will expand on the basis of productive and wise uses of capital. But it's not here today, no matter what the government says.
Best regards and good trading,
New highs for shipping stocks Alexander & Baldwin, Tidewater, and Teekay LNG.
Energy sector fund XLE touches new high... up 8% in three weeks.
Parity for Loonie and Greenback... Canadian dollar and U.S. dollar at 1:1 for the first time in 22 months.