Consumer prices are falling. Oil and a good deal of real estate have collapsed. Interest rates are tumbling. Disinflation finally is becoming a household word. Many still fear inflation as public enemy No. 1.
But the Claremont Economics Institute, which correctly predicted disinflation almost six years ago, thinks that the drop isn't over yet. The bottom, it says, is still a long way down:
*Your Home: Between 1975 and l980, house prices rose 20 percent faster than the inflation rate, which means your own home was the best investment you could have made.
But since 1981, real house prices (after inflation) have declined an average of 10 percent. Although prices still are spiraling upward in some parts of the country, homes elsewhere have lost 30 percent or more of their value.
Claremont's Scott Grannis thinks that the shakeout isn't over. Lower mortgage rates are helping to sell houses right now, and that is pushing prices up a bit. But over the long term, the deflationists think, average home prices have another 15 to 20 percent to fall.
Houses are a nice place to live, but the days are gone when they'll also make you rich.
*Interest Rates: They're still too high and will continue to fall, in the opinion of Claremont's Deborah Allen Olivier. To keep their customers, banks and S&Ls are competing to offer the highest possible savings rates.
To pay them, institutions have to earn even higher interest rates on the loans they make.
But right now, a lot of their loans are in trouble and are not earning the money that the banks had planned on. There are defaults in farm loans, energy loans, Third World loans and real estate loans.
For profits, banks and S&Ls are turning instead to high-rate consumer loans, many of them unsecured lines of credit. They're mass-mailing letters, promising $10,000 to $25,000 to consumers whose names they buy from mailing-list companies.
Borrowers are snapping up those credit lines, Olivier believes, on the strength of the money they're earning in stocks and bonds. Their stock-market profits make them feel rich enough to support the added loans.
And they'd rather make purchases on credit than sell their high-performing securities and pay cash.
But when the stock market levels out, as Claremont expects it will in a couple of years, those loans will be paid off, and banks won't have enough high-interest loans to pay high rates on savings.
If the market should fall precipitously, banks could face the same mess with consumer-loan defaults that they now face in so many other areas of the country that have been flattened by deflation.
Either way, Olivier says, banks are paying out more interest on savings than their future earnings can support. Eventually, rates will have to come down.
Her forecast for a "realistic" interest rate on passbook savings? Only 4 percent. Grannis foresees interest-rate drops of another 1 to 2 percent.
Their conclusion for savers: Lock up long-term CDs at the highest rates you can find.
*Gold: Grannis thinks that the metal's equilibrium price, in today's dollars, is somewhere around $200 to $225 an ounce. So at today's $345 an ounce, the price is high.
*Farm Land: Prices soared in the 1970s, but since 1981 they've dropped like a stone. In some areas of the Corn Belt, land prices per acre have been cut in half.
But if you look at prices over a long period of time and adjust for inflation, farm land is still more than 25 percent higher than at any time up to 1970.
Grannis' conclusion: It is still too early for investors to go hunting for cheap land in the Midwest.
*Commodities: The prices of copper, aluminum and other commodities have fallen so far that the inflation of the 1970s may just about have been squeezed out of them.
But Claremont's economists think they'll stay flat for a while rather than bounce back up -- so it's not yet time to load up on the stocks of mining companies, energy and natural resources.
*Stocks and Bonds: Claremont remains bullish on both. "There could be a small decline in the stock market this summer," Grannis says, but he's looking for 2,500 on the Dow within the year.
Under deflation, money pours out of tangibles such as gold and real estate and into financial investments such as stocks and bonds.
That movement isn't over yet, according to Grannis.