Tuesday, May 5, 2009

It's Spring, I see green shoots

It must be the Spring weather which finally has made it North to the Canadian border. It must be the Spring weather which finally has made it North to the Canadian border. The DABometer Recession Gauge has been hovering around neutral for the past few days and on more than one occasion has gone positive. The pundits call this green shoots.

Business acquaintances are mentioning recovery more often lately and an associate just returned from Southeast Asia reports that the restaurants where he dined in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai were all full. Frankly I chalk this up to the fact that these are big cities where everyone eats out all the time anyway. As a chill on this good news he also reported that the Business Class seats on the several airlines he flew were half empty. Just like the proverbial glass of water I guess.

Several contacts from the industrial laser processing world are sensing a shift in the bad news department. Hannover Messe just reported that over 210,000 people visited more than 6100 exhibits over a five day period at that industry show, a clear sign, the organizers say, that industry is putting the recession behind as they look to the future. However I notice, pointedly, that their press release does not make mention of this year's attendance number relative to the last. And a news release for the European Union headed “EU: Europe in Widespread Recession” didn’t exactly make my day. On the other hand I have a stack of press releases dating back to late December in which various European sources claimed that the recession was mild. The EU was quoted yesterday as saying they were way off the mark in earlier forecasts. Makes you sort of wonder if the bureaucrats in Brussels know which end is up. From now on I’ll take their forecasts with a grain of salt.

On the anecdotal front a machine tool distributor friend, who also sells laser cutting equipment, told me that he booked a $13 million order for fabricating equipment, with enough commission to send him to Florida for a few weeks. The word from China is that the government GNP goal will be met and that their stimulus package is working faster than thought. An expatriate former U.S. marketing guy tells me that the business for his new employer is booming in China and he expects to exceed his quota early this year.

Many of the phone calls I receive, you remember the phone don’t you, begin with “Has the turnaround started?” At first I thought this was just a joke, but then realized that these callers are seeing the same signs I am. My answer is that with a recent spurt of bad economic news from the manufacturing sector (led by the auto industry) it hasn’t happened yet. But contrary to the tea baggers around the U.S. some of the stimulus spending they abhor seems to be flowing to the right areas and things are not as gloomy as they were when the new year started. Not great, but green shoots are showing and that’s a cause for optimism.

The Feds report on the banking industry isn’t out yet and that might be an indicator. This might put a crimp in those shoots. But like my tough crocii that pop up in February when we have a couple of warm days and then hunker down when we have a particularly nasty late winter storm they always come back. My Asian reporter who went to see the birthplace of peonies on his trip, and who owns some Asian peony tree plants says that his took a beating with the bad Midwestern weather in March. Mine, Western varieties, are up a foot and thriving. So it’s no turnaround everywhere yet, like the news, but the signs are there. So be of good faith.

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