Positive gross domestic product readings and other mildly hopeful signs are masking an ugly truth: The US economy is in a 1930s-style Depression, Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg said Tuesday.
Writing in his daily briefing to investors, Rosenberg said the Great Depression also had its high points, with a series of positive GDP reports and sharp stock market gains.
But then as now, those signs of recovery were unsustainable and only provided a false sense of stability, said Rosenberg.
Rosenberg calls current economic conditions"a depression, and not just some garden-variety recession," and notes that any good news both during the initial 1929-33 recession and the one that began in 2008 triggered "euphoric response."
"Such is human nature and nobody can be blamed for trying to be optimistic; however, in the money management business, we have a fiduciary responsibility to be as realistic as possible about the outlook for the economy and the market at all times," he said.
The 1929-33 recession saw six quarterly bounces in GDP with an average gain of 8 percent, sending the stock market to a 50 percent rally in early 1930 as investors thought the worst had passed.
"False premise," Rosenberg said. "And guess what? We may well be reliving history here. If you're keeping score, we have recorded four quarterly advances in real GDP, and the average is only 3%."
Rosenberg's warning comes as a slew of major analysts—Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan among them—have slashed GDP projections for 2010 to the 1.5 to 2 percent range.
Chicago Federal Reserve President Charles Evans said in a speech Tuesday that the risk of a double-dip recession has escalated. He said government programs to help distressed homeowners have been ineffective and aren't helping the pivotal housing sector recover.
The dour outlooks come on the same day that the National Association of Realtors said home sales reached a 15-year low in June, dousing hopes that the industry had reached a bottoming point.
Rosenberg points out that the "overall economic malaise" has come despite aggressive efforts by the Federal Reserve to stimulate the economy through rate cuts. The central bank itself has scaled back its economic projections, has held steady on its balance sheet, and could be announcing another round of quantitative easing measuresat its Jackson Hole summit this week.
"How's that for a reality check," Rosenberg said. "It's not too late, by the way, to shift course if you have stayed long this market."