In Oxford, England, just northwest of London, three Bactrian camels were born recently. Echoing that, the Minnesota Zoo announced the birth of the single camel baby Socrates on April 15. This thrilling display of confidence in future capacity has the zoo world agog. The British Bactrians had not mated in several years. By producing the single baby, the more conservative Minnesota Bactrians kept their enthusiasm in check as the good Lake Woebegonians they are. With a gestation of 12 to 14 months and the usual birth pattern of single calves, the births signal heavy betting on better times.
Some camel facts. The natural home of Bactrian camels is the rocky desert of Central and East Asia. Although domesticated for over 3,000 years, there are perhaps 1,000 wild camels that range freely. These are of another species and are the only truly wild camels in the world. Up to two million of their domesticated cousins lead shackled lives in service to their masters in Central Asia.
Had the Minnesota Zoo ungulates been reading the papers they would have undoubtedly felt justified in their enthusiasm. The nation's imports were down slightly and exports were up a bit as well. Seven straight months of downward pressure on imports is leveling off so those reading the tea leaves might see possible good news in that.
On the other hand, could the camels just have been expressing the pent up need to hear little hoof beats in the pen? Out in the retail world, human consumers are keeping their powder dry. Even those with lots of disposable cash are buying cheaper or not at all. Retail sales nationally are falling for Wal-Mart (1.4%) and Saks, Inc. (23.6%). That looks like continued downward pressure on at least part of all imports. In response, retailers will cut inventories through mid 2010. But will consumers eventually buy back to happy days levels? That is something the economists will not predict openly.
And on the third hand that all economists seem to have, Wall Street is sharing the enthusiasm of the camels. The market is looking for profit reports that are going in the right direction and found one from Wells Fargo. The company reported a whopping $3 billion in first quarter earnings. Mortgage applications are up. What do you know.
All in all the camels have it. Little Socrates has been named for his wisdom after all.
Laura Waterman Wittstock is president and CEO of Wittstock & Associates. The firm provides consultation in new projects, creative, development, assessment/evaluation, and governance. Read more about Laura Waterman Wittstock
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