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

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail