FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Look Out Below!

by MIKE WHITNEY

The slowdown has begun. The economy has started to sputter and unemployment claims have tipped 400,000 for the last seven weeks. That means new investment is too weak to lower the jobless rate which is presently stuck at 9 percent. Manufacturing–which had been the one bright-spot in the recovery– has also started to retreat with some areas in the country now contracting. Housing, of course, continues its downward trek putting more pressure on bank balance sheets and plunging more homeowners into negative equity.

The likelihood of another credit expansion in this environment is next-to-none. Total private sector debt is still at a historic high at 270% of GDP which augurs years of digging out and painful deleveraging. Analysts have already started slicing their estimates for 2nd Quarter GDP which will be considerably lower than their original predictions. With the economy dead-in-the-water, the IPOs, the Mergers & Acquisitions, and the stock buybacks and all the other ways of amplifying leverage will slow putting a dent in quarterly earnings and pushing down stock prices. Here’s a clip from the Wall Street Journal:

“After a disappointing first quarter, economists largely predicted the U.S. recovery would ramp back up as short-term disruptions such as higher gas prices, bad weather and supply problems in Japan subsided.

But there’s little indication that’s happening. Manufacturing is cooling, the housing market is struggling and consumers are keeping a close eye on spending, meaning the U.S. economy might be on a slower path to full health than expected.

“It’s very hard to generate a rapid recovery when rapid recoveries are historically driven by housing and the consumer,” said Nigel Gault, an economist at IHS Global Insight. He expects an annualized, inflation-adjusted growth rate of less than 3% in coming quarters?better than the first-quarter’s 1.8% rate, but too slow to make a meaningful dent in unemployment.” (“Economists Downgrade Prospects for Growth”, Wall Street Journal)

The Fed has tried to revive the economy by buying government bonds (QE2) which helped to boost equities prices. Unfortunately, the program sent gas and food prices higher too, which has only deepened the distress for consumers forcing them to cut their discretionary spending even more. While retail sales improved significantly in the latter months of the program, a closer look at the data shows that most of the money went for food and fuel. So, basically, QE2 was a “wash”. Now businesses are left with bulging inventories and fewer customers because demand is weakening. This is from the New York Times:

“An economy that is growing this slowly will not add jobs quickly. For the next couple of months, employment growth could slow from about 230,000 recently to something like 150,000 jobs a month, only slightly faster than normal population growth. That is certainly not fast enough to make a big dent in the still huge number of unemployed people.

Are any policy makers paying attention?…

The most sensible response for Washington would be to begin thinking more seriously about taking out an insurance policy on the recovery. The Fed could stop worrying so much about inflation, which remains historically low, and look at how else it might encourage spending. As Mr. Bernanke has said before, the Fed “retains considerable power” to lift growth.

The White House and Congress, meanwhile, could begin talking about extending last year’s temporary extension of business tax credits, household tax cuts and jobless benefits beyond Dec. 31. It would be easy enough to pair such an extension with longer-term deficit reduction.” (“The Economy Is Wavering. Does Washington Notice?”, New York Times)

This is more than just a “rough patch”. The economy is stalling and needs help, but consumers and households are not in a position to take on more debt, and every recovery since the end of WW2 has seen an increase in debt-fueled consumption. So, where will the spending come from this time? That’s the mystery. The early signs of “green shoots” were produced by fiscal stimulus from increased government spending. But now that the deficit hawks are in control of congress, the budget will be pared and the economy will remain sluggish. If government spending is cut, unemployment will rise, the output gap will widen, and GDP will fizzle. Contractionary policies do not lead to growth or prosperity. Just look at England.

Most of the Inflationistas have returned to their bunkers sensing that deflationary pressures are building and the signs of Depression have reemerged. Stocks appear to be on the brink of a major correction. Here’s what economist Nouriel Roubini told Bloomberg News on Friday:

“The world economy is losing strength halfway through the year as high oil prices and fallout from Japan’s natural disaster and Europe’s debt woes take their toll…. Until two weeks ago I’d say markets were shrugging off all these concerns, saying they don’t matter because they were believing the global economic recovery was on track. But I think right now we’re on the tipping point of a market correction….

With slow global economic growth, they’re going to surprise on the downside. We’re going to see the beginning of a correction that’s going to increase volatility and that’s going to increase risk aversion.” (“Roubini Sees Stock-Correction ‘Tipping Point'”, Bloomberg)

With short-term interest rates stuck at zero and QE2 winding down by the end of June, the Fed appears to be out of bullets. At the same time, government (at all levels) is trimming spending and laying off workers.

When spending slows, the economy contracts. It’s that simple. Without emergency stimulus, commodities will fall hard and stocks will follow. Look out below.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com

 

MIKE WHITNEY lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail