All's not well with the U.S. economy
Here is an article from the NYT that everyone in business, venture capital, and the stock market should read.
“I was a relative optimist, but I’ve certainly become more pessimistic,” said Alan S. Blinder, an economist at Princeton, and a former vice chairman of the board of governors at the Federal Reserve. “The financial system looks substantially worse now than it did a month ago. If the Freddie and Fannie bailout were to fail, it could get a hell of a lot worse. If we get more bank failures, we have the possibility of seeing more of these pictures of people standing in line to pull their money out. That could really scare consumers.”
In one respect, Mr. Blinder added, this is like the Great Depression. “We haven’t seen this kind of travail in the financial markets since the 1930s,” he said.
More than two years ago, Nouriel Roubini, an economist at the Stern School of Business at New York University, said that the housing bubble would give way to a financial crisis and a recession. He was widely dismissed as an attention-seeking Chicken Little. Now, Mr. Roubini says the worst is yet to come, because the account-squaring has so far been confined mostly to bad mortgages, leaving other areas remaining — credit cards, auto loans, corporate and municipal debt.
Mr. Roubini says the cost of the financial system’s losses could reach $2 trillion. Even if it’s closer to $1 trillion, he adds, “we’re not even a third of the way there.”
Where will the banks raise the huge sums needed to replenish the capital they have apparently lost? And what will happen if they cannot?
The answers to these questions are unknown, an unsettling void that holds much of the economy at a standstill.
“We’re in a dangerous spot,” said Andrew Tilton, an economist at Goldman Sachs. “The big threat is more capital losses.”
Banks are a crucial piece of the economy’s arterial system, steering capital where it is needed to fuel spending and power growth. Now, they are holding tight to their dollars, starving businesses of loans they might use to expand, and depriving families of money they might use to buy houses and fill them with furniture and appliances.
From last June to this June, commercial bank lending declined more than 9 percent, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data by Goldman Sachs.
“You have another wave of anxiety, another tightening of credit,” said Robert Barbera, chief economist at the research and trading firm ITG. “The idea that we’ll have a second half of the year recovery has gone by the boards.”
The fate of the economy now rests on the shoulders of the American consumer, whose spending amounts to 70 percent of all economic activity.
Through the years of the housing boom, many Americans came to treat their homes like automated teller machines that never required a deposit. They harvested cash through sales, second mortgages and home equity lines of credit — an artery of finance that reached $840 billion a year from 2004 to 2006, according to work by the economists James Kennedy and Alan Greenspan, the former Federal Reserve chairman. That allowed Americans to live far in excess of what they brought home from work.
But by the first three months of this year, that flow had constricted to an annual rate of about $200 billion.
Average household debt has swelled to 120 percent of annual income, up from 60 percent in 1984, according to the Federal Reserve.
And now the banks are turning off the credit taps.
This isn’t a blog post so much as shorthand on the piece if you don’t have time to read it yourself. It gibes well with an economic forecast that I saw 2 weeks ago at the Profit 100 conference. That economist says 2009 and 2010 will be as bad in the U.S. as 1982; his firm has a 96% confidence rate when it comes to their predictions, based upon their success over the past 30 years.
Senator Obama will have two rough years, but the economy will be rolling again in time for 2012.