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The long and short of the 'great correction'? Real estate de-leveraging.

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(Read caption) Researchers in France think they have identified the site where fire was first discovered.

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Fire discovered! Researchers in France think they have identified the site where fire was first discovered. Carbon dating puts the discovery much earlier than previously thought. But here’s the big surprise…it was not modern humans who discovered fire. More below…

Our beat here at the Daily Reckoning isn’t combustion, it’s money. We keep our eyes on the money.

Trouble is, in this electronic age we can’t see the money! It passes from central bank to regional bank to local bank to local business to local household all electronically. Hardly leaves a trace.

Why is this important? We can’t think of any reason it is important. We just thought it was interesting.

Because now we’re getting a lot of data that purports to show that people have more money. But where is it?

Consumer spending is up, they say. Housing prices are up, they add. Even employment is up. Well, no…not really. Employment is ’stabilizing.’

Meanwhile the figures tell us that incomes are down.

So, it’s hard to know what to believe. We’d like to see the cold hard cash…in peoples’ hands.

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One thing that is happening, say the experts, is that people are losing their houses and defaulting on their debts. This then frees up more of their incomes for spending!

Then, the papers report more consumer spending; and they think the economy is improving.

What is really going on? The Great Correction! In this case, the real estate market is de-leveraging. And that takes time. There will be periods when prices are going down. And periods when they are going up. But the overall trend will be down. It took nearly 20 years to deflate the bubble in Japan. It will take years to deflate the property bubble here in the US too.

Same thing with stock prices. In Japan, the first crack came in 1989. Then came some years of falling prices and some years of rising prices. But the major trend was down for two decades.

Let us remind readers how it works. There are little trends. And there are big trends. You can make money in a period of falling prices…but only if you’re lucky.

We don’t like depending on luck. Even less do we count on brains. What we want is a market that is rising…where we can have no luck and no brains and still make good money.

That was the case in the US in the 25 years from 1982 to 2007. All you had to do was to buy and hold. You would have made about 14 times your money. You could have done a little better if you were smart enough to trade out before the little downtrends and buy back in when the uptrend resumed. And you could have done better, too, if you were lucky enough to buy the stocks that rose more than others.

But here at the Daily Reckoning, we’re neither particularly lucky nor particularly smart. That’s why we have to go with the trend. Make the trend our friend. And stick with it.

What’s the trend in the stock market…and the real estate market…today? No one knows for sure. But our bet is that it is down. Prices peaked out in 2007. They’ve been generally going down ever since.

Yesterday proved nothing. The Dow fell 50 points. Oil rose to over $83. Gold rose $8.

In the stock market, investors have made nothing for the last 10 years. Most likely, this is a bear market that will last for another 5 or 10 years… If it follows the major trends of the past, we should see the Dow down below 5,000 before it’s over.

Then again, who knows?

And back to the discovery of fire…

“This is a really important discovery,” said Marvin Schwartz, an archeologist with the University of Dundalk. “We believe we’ve located the actual site where fire was discovered. Not the place where it was first observed…for surely, primitive men observed fire following lightening strikes and forest fires. But this was where fire was first controlled and harnessed.”

The site is located in Southwest France, not far from our house. It is near the region of cave paintings in the Dordogne. The cave in which the discovery was made was found by accident when a local wine planter turned over a stone to make more room for his vineyard. The stone covered the small entrance to a cave which had been used by primitive men some 50,000 years ago.

“We can date the habitation from the traces of animals that had been slaughtered in the cave. The animal remains give us a way to know when the cave was inhabited and what the people who lived here ate.

“What we can tell so far is that they ate a lot of meat. They were not vegetarians. We have found animal remains – which include the bones of animals that are now extinct, such as the giant elk and the dwarf mastodon.

“But most important, we have found soot on the roof of the cave. This shows the use of fire began much earlier than previous researchers had believed, around 50,000 BC. Either these primitive people discovered fire…or they were chain smokers. Either way, it’s an extraordinary find.

“I should tell you something else that is extraordinary. They weren’t people like us. The remains in this cave are not those of Homo Sapiens Sapiens. They were a different branch of the hominid family. Actually, we’re not sure what they were. DNA samples do not match any of the other known biped groups – neither the Neanderthals, nor the diminutive group found on the Isla de Flores in Southeast Asia, nor even the recent human-like remains discoveries in Siberia.

“What we’re looking at here is a previously unknown group of proto-humans. Surprisingly, the study so far has been unable to identify this particular branch of the human tree. All I know is that they must have been incredibly stupid. They had fire long before our ancestors. But we’re alive. They’re not.”

But the intriguing inference comes from a colleague, Dr. Yin Yang of the University of Taipei:

“It incorrect to say they stupid. More likely, fire stupid innovation, like TV. Or video games. Bad invention. Made them weak. They got too hot. Overcooked their food. Then, they couldn’t compete with our honorable ancestors. ”

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