Ben Bernanke says that today's current economic and financial woes don't compare with the Great Depression in the late 1920s and 1930s. Too bad he can't see what Bob Prechter sees – that today's problems are actually worse.
After a speech in Austin on Dec. 1, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke took questions from the audience. Here's an excerpt from the AFP story, which reported his response:
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke said Monday the current economic situation bears "no comparison" to the much deeper crisis of the 1930s Great Depression.
"Well, you hear a lot of loose talk, but let me just ... say, as a scholar of the Great Depression -- and I've written books about the Depression and been very interested in this since I was in graduate school, there's no comparison," Bernanke said in a question period after an address in Austin, Texas.
Bernanke cited "an order-of-magnitude difference" in the current situation compared to the 1930s. "During the 1930s, there was a worldwide depression that lasted for about 12 years and was only ended by a world war," he said. "During that time, the unemployment rate went to 25 percent, at least, based on the data that we have. The real GDP (gross domestic product) fell by one-third. About a third of all of the banks failed. The stock market fell 90 percent."
Bernanke said the situation at that time represented "very difficult circumstances," because "we didn't have the social safety net that we have today. So let's put that out of our minds; there's no -- there's comparison in terms of severity." [AFP, 12/1/08]
It all sounds so reasonable. But, if you've noticed, neither the Fed nor the U.S. Treasury has successfully stemmed the economy's downturn. There's a good reason why they can't, which Bob Prechter has been talking and writing about for years. It's because this economic downturn won't be just a long recession or a short depression. It's going to be a major deflationary depression, a forecast that Bob bases on his long-term Elliott wave analysis of the markets, which shows a pattern developing on what we call a Grand Supercycle level. The words "grand" and "super" probably explain how large a turndown we are looking at.
Now, with the Dow in decline, the meltdown of Wall Street, and the steep drop in crude oil and other commodities prices, more people may want to know exactly what Bob has forecast. Here's a brief Q&A that summarizes his view that what we're heading for will be worse than the Great Depression – and then it will be time to turn bullish.
Q: There are valid reasons to expect excess capacity [in the U.S. economy] to be consumed this time. Eastern Europe, India and China, for example. Those markets weren't even open to U.S. manufacturers in 1966.
Bob Prechter: First, it is just such hopes that create the psychological environment for a top. But like all such arguments based on so-called fundamentals, it has two sides. In your example, those countries are not only consumers, but they are also becoming producers. Very cheap producers, too. Won't that be a negative influence on U.S. wage rates and profit margins, at least temporarily?
Q: The majority of pundits is saying that positive changes in the worldwide outlook for capitalism and other favorable "fundamentals" are bullish for stocks.
Bob Prechter: Of course they're saying that. How else could the global stock market make a top? The worldwide outlook for capitalism in 1942 was terrible, so it was a great stock-buying opportunity. In the coming bear market, the public's image of capitalism will suffer again.
Q: You say that the coming stock crash will lead to a depression. If so, wasn't the 1987 crash wrong? The economy has gone on to record activity and new highs.
Bob Prechter: Not all crashes lead to depressions. The 1962 crash, for instance, which was Primary wave 4 of Cycle wave III. The 1987 crash was in almost the same position as that one: Primary wave 4 of Cycle wave V, although because of its large price movement, I didn't realize it at the time. That corrective pattern did lead to a recession, though, in 1990-91. But the coming crash will be different. It will be much larger, part of a grand Supercycle bear market.
Q: What time period does the current long-term pattern in the markets have the most in common with?
Bob Prechter: The 1720 peak. That's when the investment manias associated with the South Sea Bubble in England and the Mississippi Scheme in France ended.
Q: Will the bear market be similar to the one that followed that peak?
Bob Prechter: Similar, yes, but while the bear market of the 1700s produced 64 years of a zigzag pattern, a very simple down-up-down shape, this one is likely to be a sideways pattern, which will manifest as plummeting major declines punctuated by tremendous rallies back to near or slightly past the old highs. If you take a look at the Dow Jones Industrial Average chart from 1966 to 1982, you can get an idea of what I'm expecting. But it will occur on a larger scale.
Q: What about the accompanying economic turmoil? How quickly will depression arrive?
Bob Prechter: Because the economic changes that are occurring are of such a very large degree, they will occur in a fashion different from the slam-bang progression of typical recessions of the past 50 years. I think the economic expansion in force since 1991 is ending, and we will then have another contraction, which is deeper than the last. After it's gone on for a while and economists actually recognize it, you will undoubtedly hear continual reiterations that it's just a "mild recession." Any recoveries will be met with fanfare and assurances that a new boom is under way. But any bounce will just be a bear-market rally against the larger trend. When the bottom is reached, the economic devastation will be front-page news, just as it was in 1933.
Q: Do you see the same thing happening globally?
Bob Prechter: A Grand Supercycle bear market and depression will be worldwide, for sure. That's too big a degree to have only local implications.
Q: Many people would indignantly say, "Today is not like 1929."
Bob Prechter: They're right. It's worse.
Q: Worse than in 1929. Why?
Bob Prechter: Because it seems better, of course. People are more optimistic than ever before, at least as far back as our data go. And look at the results. When but at a major top in worldwide social mood would you ever have had the Berlin Wall come down, communism rejected, sanctions lifted on South Africa and the idea of a "new world order"? This type of psychologically induced event on the world stage, including Mideast, IRA-English and Bosnian peace agreements, 20 American free trade agreements in 34 months and, in October 1995, a photograph commemorating the largest gathering of national leaders in world history, has continued right through today with the normalization of trade ties with China.
Q: This is bad news?
Bob Prechter: It's a huge top. At the bottom, international tensions will be high and include active conflict, as always. That will be bullish … which means for the future.
Q: What will be the prime indication that the great economic contraction is about to start?
Bob Prechter: The stock market will be the main indication. When the Dow heads down in a big way, we'll be off the cliff.