Today is the tomorrow you forgot you were worried about yesterday

I think I’ve figured the game out. I’ve commented, previously, on how frustrating I’ve found financial reporting to be. What did it, particularly, was this treatment of yesterdays as though they never happened. One day Wall Street was soaring, the next correcting, but at no point was there any breaking of the 4th wall of hacky writing. At no point did an editor state, “we’re aware that the tenor and tone of this article is completely at odds with yesterday’s, and tomorrow’s will do the same.”

Well, I think it’s deliberate. How, I haven’t yet worked out. But consider the news on oil, to begin:

NYMEX

We were told by the Financial Times that oil price were to plunge because Hedge funds were taking out their profits. We were told oil prices were going to go down because petrol/gasoline stockpiles were up (turns out they weren’t really).

Refineries in the US are now at about 91% operational efficiency. Meanwhile demand for ordinary petroleum is running as high as ever and there’s a 40% shortfall in heating oil, as winter approaches (and, given the givens, could well be bloody freezing). Given oil production is flat to declining, oil exports are declining and domestic refining capacity is nearly met, why in hell would oil prices or gasoline prices go down?

Has anyone in your newspaper offered a “whoops” for all their big talk about the bloody Dow Jones (now steadiliy declining) breaking 14,000?

DJIA

I didn’t think so. When it goes back below 13,000, heading in the wrong direction, will that much noise be made about the new milestone?

More importantly, why does so much of what we see written in our newspapers pretend anything else is the case? I suppose thinking that these dots are hard to connect is comforting, because it means I’m in for a Genius Grant (score!). They are, however, not; they practically connect themselves in our faces.

Second, consider hedge funds, debt, subprime lending, etc. While it took Bernanke long enough to admit that the sub-prime/Adjustable Rate Mortgage re-set problem even had scale, he’s yet to accept that it has scope. Meanwhile hedge funds are closing down their funds, or losing them altogether, private equity is finding itself with molasses feet while chasing leveraged buyouts, and housing numbers continue a path of deterioration.

NY Times housing

On the latter the news is correct – if only because “4th straight month” is easy to add to the title story. But, as the superlative blog the Big Picture is also complaining, today, people are still surprised:

David F. Seiders, chief economist of the National Association of Home Builders, said the unexpected weakness in recent months had caused him to shave his forecast for housing construction this year. It now shows a fall of 23 percent after a 14 percent drop in 2006.

Unexpected? In a market as volatile as the current housing market (new and existing), how can “expected market weakness” be seriously considered? Moreover, given what we know about the deteriorating state of sub-prime mortgages and re-sets on Adjustable Rate Mortgages, and data available that can indicate distressed sales (not to mention distressed households), how can we act surprised that numbers turn out worse than the declining trends predicted by old data?

So my conspiracy theory is simply this. We’re trying not to think about it. If we don’t spot the trend in these things, we won’t worry. We don’t immediately stop our consumer-spending behaviour in preparation for the seven lean years ahead of us (thereby most definitely braking the economy), or stop borrowing money for that pool, or the deck extension, or the new car (we already are, because the credit itself is harder to come by. If you take away the wanting of the credit, though the effect will be greater still). More importantly we start to be unhappy with things – more than we already are.

I’m not going all-out, “truth about 9/11” conspiracy theory – like I said, I haven’t worked that part of it out, yet. It just strikes me as a fairy tale consensus that we won’t discuss the fact that today is more then merely a bit of bad news, today is bad news on top of yesterday, making today worse than yesterday, which was a little worse than the day before, etc. It’s Iraq War-style reporting: five fucking years of “progress” with almost no outcome. Students: how well do you think you’ll get on in your classes if you can report 5 years of “progress” without anything to show for it but billions lost and thousands of dead bodies? Do we style our culture, news media and political economy entirely on Fox News and the White House, and the recovering alcoholic-coke-head President? Given that we do have the ability to remember last week, it would behove us to do so, no?

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