Tag: Financial crisis

The Menace of a Double Dip

The initial numbers for 2012 Q4 show the economy shrank at 0.1%. Are we entering a double-dip recession? Ed Morrissey breaks the numbers down a bit:

In other words, much of this drop seems to be a lack of inventory expansion. Real final sales to end purchasers rose, even if it didn’t go up by much. That would indicate that inventory expansion in Q3 and prior periods was based on overly-optimistic views of the economy.

Government spending also fell dramatically by 15% in Q4, meaning that private spending was actually up. Of course, it was up in Q3, so if you average the two quarters out, we’ve got a slow economy, but not one in recession. Possibly.

A few reasons not to run for the hills just yet:

1) The numbers are preliminary and will be revised again and again over the next year and a half. Remember that the economy was actually in recovery when Bush was voted out in 1992 but it took a while for the numbers to become clear. By the same token, the economy was crashing badly in the final quarter of 2008 but that didn’t become clear until over a year later. The most dramatic revision is likely to occur at the end of February, but don’t be surprised if the numbers change a lot. That could mean the economy is better; but it could also mean it’s worse. It’s unlikely to be good.

2) A shrinking economy is at variance with a number of other economic indicators, notably falls in unemployment, jobless claims and job creation figures. Long-term unemployment is starting to fall for the first time in a while and housing is starting to recover. This may indicate the growth number is bad. Or may be a lagging indicator.

3) If the economy is slowing down, it means that the “Debt Truthers” like Paul Krugman and, alarming, Bruce Bartlett, are even more full of shit than they were a week ago. The idea that our budget is coming into balance is predicated on strong economic growth. If that isn’t happening, the debt is still a Big Fucking Deal.

4) Sniping about the media calling economic news “unexpected” is silly. Economic figures are very noisy and almost never come in at expectations. The news is always “unexpected”. That’s not media bias; that’s media ignorance of how economic figures work.

5) I suspect that the real reason Q4 was slow was because of the uncertainty created by the fiscal cliff combined with the impact of Hurricane Sandy. The last time we saw growth slow like this was … during the debt ceiling crisis. If Congress and the President would quit creating these self-induced economic crises, we might be in much better shape. And having a Katrina-level event — one that cause $60 billion in direct damage and God knows how much in lost productivity in the midst of this political mess was a huge blow. Sandy alone might have knocked a percentage point of our growth.

So we should be concerned, but I’m not ready to panic just yet. 2013 Q1 might also be a bit weak with the expiration of the payroll tax holiday and I do think this will get Congress to punt the debt ceiling and possibly the sequester just to keep the economy from any more shocks.

Update: More:

For one thing, most of the collapse was due to a stunning fall in military spending. That’s not good for GDP, but it doesn’t reflect the real underlying strength of the economy.

And it’s mostly due to war drawdown. That’s a good thing for everyone!

There was also a big decline due to a reversal of big inventory buildups.

What’s key is that the numbers that really reflect the strength of the economy were much better.

Personal consumption, fixed investment, and equipment/software all grew nicely. This is the real economy humming along.

I’m not quite that optimistic. We had a real problems last quarter with the fiscal cliff and Sandy — problems that have not magically gone away. I’m expecting Q1 to be mediocre if we’re lucky.

What Caterpillars Know

The interminable slog to the election (death by a thousand cuts) is winding down, with the last debate tonight. Although focused primarily on foreign affairs I expect Romney to connect the dots between our listless stumbling bumbling economy and how it affects the rest of the world. I also expect Bob Schieffer to understand his role and his place, no on the spot fact checks duplicitly injected to bail out their preferable ,”No, Governor, really, the president does care about our foreign ambassadors, he told me so many times, carry on”.

But the inextricable link of world markets and economies, the notion that a tree falling (or a bad earnings report) in America is now heard in China and in Europe, this is the new reality. What we do with our economy, our debt, and our currency ripples across the world, and CEO’s know this better then most:

The global economic outlook is more uncertain now than at the start of the financial crisis in late 2008, chief executive of Caterpillar , Doug Oberhelman, said on Monday.
The CEO of the world’s largest maker of construction equipment also predicted that it could take another five years before Europe’s economy begins to see growth again.
“There’s never been a more unpredictable set of tea leaves than right now.

To deny that we are a major player, that how we manage our own house affects others in the global neighborhood, and that our mismanagement is playing hell with other economies denies the obvious. A more myopic sinister view might be that,”Here we go again, greedy CEO’s trying to influence elections, injecting their spin and their POV on national affairs”, naturally that would just be silly.

I would suspect that CEO’s, business people who understand capitalism, the free markets, and the profit motive would understand what conditions are optimal for making money/growing their business and what conditions are anathema to those pursuits. Oberhelman just gave Obama an “F” on the economy, we can do better.

Our security, and by proxy the world’s security is weakened when our currency is not stable, when our debt is unmanageable, and our growth is anemic. Romney needs to ram that home tonight.

Not “If”, but “When”.

As I have pointed out, we are sooner than later going to have another economic disaster, because the politicians that caused it not only didn’t fix it with a massive expansion of their power to influence which companies are protected by government and which ones can be taken down, and only made it worse, and others seem to agree. In fact it seems even the LSM now is feeling forced to report on that.

“There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner,” says hedge fund legend Mark Mobius, “because we haven’t solved any of the things that caused the previous crisis.”

What problem is that you ask? Well, it’s those shitty mortgages that never should have been issued, to people that were not qualified and thus couldn’t pay them back, which where issued, under threat of losing your FDIC insurance if you did not comply, as part of a 3 decade long attempt at social engineering a collectivist utopia.

Through quantitative easing efforts alone,” says Euro Pacific Capital’s Michael Pento, “Ben Bernanke has added $1.8 trillion of longer-term GSE debt and mortgage-backed securities (MBS).”

Think about that for a moment. The Fed’s entire balance sheet totaled around $800 billion before the 2008 crash, nearly all of it Treasuries. Now the Fed holds more than double that amount in mortgage derivatives alone, junk that the banks needed to clear off their own balance sheets.

“As the size of the Fed’s balance sheet ballooned,” continues Mr. Pento, “the dollar amount of capital held at the Fed has remained fairly constant. Today, the Fed has $52.5 billion of capital backing a $2.7 trillion balance sheet.

“Prior to the bursting of the credit bubble, the public was shocked to learn that our biggest investment banks were levered 30-to-1. When asset values fell, those banks were quickly wiped out. But now the Fed is holding many of the same types of assets and is levered 51-to-1! If the value of their portfolio were to fall by just 2%, the Fed itself would be wiped out.”

Get that? Our government now owns some $2.7 trillion of debt, much, if not all, of it bad debt, and has a measly $52 billion of capital behind it, leaving it leveraged by a ghastly 51–to–1 debt to asset ration. What is left out, to give you some perspective of how fucking insane and bad this is, is the fact that the Dodd-Frank bill capped banks at a 15-to-1 ratio. Our government carries more than three time the debt rated against their assets!

Worse yet, is the obvious fact that Dodd-Frank did nothing to deal with the fundamental problem that caused all this: being forced by government to give loans to unqualified people. The bill basically ignored this completely so the politicians could keep the same social engineering lending requirements that caused the problem in the first place, around. So in the current clime where there is pressure to make banks loan again, as soon as banks actually meet that 15-to-1 ratio, they open themselves to being forced to do more of the same or risk being accused of discriminating. And the whole game starts all over.

Now couple all of that with the horrible state of affairs of the European banking system, which is basically using buckets to drain water from a sinking ship with a gash the size of the one inflicted on the Titanic by an iceberg, and you can see that things look bleak. That’s why we get things like:

“Unless the euro zone debt crisis is resolved in a timely and orderly manner, the broad credit outlook for the U.S. banking industry could worsen,” the New York-based rating company said yesterday in a statement. Even as U.S. banks have “manageable” exposure to stressed European markets, “further contagion poses a serious risk,” Fitch said, without explaining what it meant by contagion.

Here is the scary part. None of the Eurocrats in Brussels have the foggiest idea on how to solve this. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise. All they are doing is more of the same Keynesian nonsense in an attempt to keep the doomed EU together. The French and German banks are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because they have so much money lent to the troubled members of the PIGS – Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain – that any one of those not paying back 100% of what they owe will send them into the abyss. And those that are honest don’t even believes that Greece, where the people have gone bonkers because they now have to wait till they are 60 to retire or are being told they will get less “free stuff” and are up in arms, can pay a fraction of what they owe, back. Those that play the odds favor the EU falling apart. The fall of the big European nanny state is going to hammer us.

Running out of other people’s money, sucks, but we better wake up to that reality or Team Blue, which thinks that they can recreate Greece here, but somehow magically without all the trouble that comes with that socialist utopia, will seal our doom. Maybe that’s the plan anyway. Nobody can be as inept as these people have been and continue to be on purpose, and survive this long. The universe can’t be that cruel.