Contrarian Times indicator signals recovery

The recession was over last year. Just read Reuters.

The times they are a changin’, and the Times tells the tale, if you buy into my contrarian call based on media messaging.

The New York Times’ Sunday edition early this month featured a Las Vegas-in-the-Dumpster article in its Number 2 front page hole. The two-hole is in the left upper corner under the masthead. Such placement means editors think it trails in importance only the Number 1-hole story in the upper right hand corner.

That Sunday, the upper right stacked NYT headlines read: “House Majority Still Uncertain, Republicans Say; Races Grow More Fluid; GOP Strategists Can Count On Only Half the Seats Needed.” Upper left, stacked headlines over the gloomy Nevada story asserted: “Las Vegas Faces Its Deepest Slide Since 1940s; Casino Revenues Down; Building Bust Worsens Jobless Rate and Foreclosures.”

News? Perhaps to inattentive dullards in the rest of the nation. Hellish history to those of us in the Silver State. What readers can take from this is … heart.

Tomorrow is in our laps when the nation’s turgid left-leaning rag—journalism’s often-behind-the-times Times—catches up with reality. To a contrarian, this is a great indicator the recession bottomed this autumn.

The Grey Lady, as more nimble journalists dub the Times, when dressed in her Sunday regalia amounts to a massive newsweekly magazine. She’s a newspaper version of such fake gems as Time, Newsweek, Business Week or Great Britain’s Economist.

From such self-important journalistic outfits readers receive evidence of what is fading. The Times is behind the curve in such calls, just as folks at the National Bureau of Economic Research were with their September 2010 silliness announcing that the recession ended in June 2009.

Another sign the Grey Lady is in rear-view-mirror mode came in a sidebar (accompanying explainer) story on an inside jump page headlined: “California Casinos Put Squeeze on Nevada’s; Tribal Resorts Play Up Convenience.”

An accompanying picture showed empty seats at a Reno blackjack table. The cutline: “With the growth of tribal gambling in California, casinos in Reno, NV, like the Club CalNeva, have found themselves under more pressure to bring in the crowds.” Duh!

None of this is meant to claim recovery isn’t agonizingly slow, or that Nevada doesn’t need to switch emphasis from gambling and hospitality to other economic drivers. However, it likely signals the worst has passed even though better days still remain over the horizon.

Journalists writing on business and markets are terrible predictors and, consequently, swell contrarian indicators. They’re almost as bad as economists.

As the Motley Fool website has it, this isn’t because journalists are necessarily stupid. It’s because they write about yesterday after a mass audience becomes interested, and often take the trend for tomorrow, as well.

The dirty little secret of journalism is it works for current events (sports, politics, culture, natural disasters) and is dismal longer term (business and markets, the glacial pace of diplomatic nuance, governing, drawn-out wars).

Examples abound. Two big ones came from the aforementioned Business Week and Economist. A Business Week cover story in the 1970s predicted the death of equities (the stock market); another from the Economist in 1999 projected possible $10 per barrel oil. Hoo-ha!

Now the New York Times Sunday edition tells us many cities show signs that the recession is ending, but Las Vegas certainly isn’t one of them, and Nevada is sinking in the same leaky boat. So it would seem, but …

Wanna bet?