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On Disasters, Reflection & Re-Strengthening

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The U.S. has several holidays designed to promote reflection of times hard fought in the history of this country — Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, etc. But although it is not an official holiday, no single day on the American calendar brings this level of reflection as high as does September 11th. Anyone who recalls that fateful day in 2001 — a Tuesday, as it falls today as well — remembers how fraught with peril everything was then, and for weeks, months, even years after.

We are also coming up on the tenth-year anniversary of the crash of Lehman Brothers, an event that triggered a financial collapse built on fraudulent mortgage-based trading instruments that froze the markets like nothing we’d seen since September 11, 2001, and was so widespread it caused the Treasury to construct a massive bailout system of the nation’s biggest banks, then the auto industry and elsewhere. To this day in certain pockets around the world (think certain suspect economies in Europe and other places), the aftershock of the U.S. economic quake are still being felt to this day.

Just one year ago, Hurricane Maria ravaged the Caribbean, including the U.S. territories of the Virgin Islands and especially Puerto Rico. Almost as devastating as that storm was was the original misdiagnosis that only 64 Puerto Ricans had lost their lives during the course of it; the eventual death toll rose to 4,600 — more than 50% higher than the death toll in the WTC of September 11.

Also last year, Hurricanes Harvey — which struck Gulf Coast Texas — and Irma — which hit Florida — contributed to the most expensive hurricane season in U.S. history. And the storms were so significant they not only caused human casualties and property damage, but caused temporary declines in a wide number of industries, including those that took a chunk out of monthly jobs numbers — about the only thing to quell the historically robust labor force growth we continue to see to this day.

Currently, people in the coastal Carolinas are evacuating their homes as their region braces for Hurricane Florence, currently a Category 4 storm expected to make landfall this week. A million Carolinians have been urged to flee this storm, which by itself will cause at very least a regional hit to industries, and for who knows how long. A quick view of modern history in the U.S. illustrates we are once again in the cyclical part of challenging, potentially dire, times.

Our track record on such challenges in this country is spotty. There are still critics of the U.S. government regarding the short shrift Puerto Ricans have received in the aftermath of Maria (reminiscent of criticism of the handling of the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in the late summer of 2005), whereas the September 11th tragedy helped galvanize the collective spirit of Americans, if only temporarily. Once Florence hits the South Atlantic coast of the U.S. mainland, will we see a quick restoration of health and well-being, or something notably less than that? Time will tell.

Futures in the market are down again this morning, with no substantive economic data to report. Several members of the Fed will be giving speeches today and throughout this week ahead of the next FOMC meeting, which is already determined to hike interest rates another quarter-percent. Beyond this, we don’t see much that might affect trading in a significant way. Unless this latest hurricane turns out to be better — or worse — than expected.

Mark Vickery
Senior Editor

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