Monday, December 14, 2009

Economic Forecast Contrarianism

Daniel Gross has an interesting article on Slate, arguing that we are about to turn a corner on American unemployment. It is interesting because it is so optimistic, and against my personal feelings on this matter. It is at times like this that we need to stop and check our own assumptions, when our feelings ask us to ignore the opposing point of view.

The strongest reason I do not believe we are turning a corner, is because the US economy has not fixed its structural problems. The recent report on the mortgage rescue program showed that, of the subprime applicants so far, only about 12(?)% are capable of paying the re-negotiated fixed-rate mortgage. Many more houses will go onto the foreclosure block in the near future. Maybe the banks have already wrote down all these mortgages, but I doubt it.

A related problem is with the velocity of money and savings. In America, the savings rate is going up, which reduces the velocity of money. The Fed rate is already near zero, and Obama is going up against the limit on deficit spending, so they are almost out of tools to re-inflate the US money supply. The contracted money supply means the US domestic economy has contracted.

Although the personal savings rate is up, the foreclosure market is sucking up a lot of the savings. Being an "asset-rich, cash-poor" enterprise, real estate investment is a sinkhole on the money supply. This is money that might otherwise be available for business investment.

Therefore, going forward, businesses may want to expand, but the credit market will be expensive. They will have to rely on their own funds, and some foreign investment, to fund the expansion. With the rise in savings, we cannot rely on the consumer spending to grow the economy. The business spending side of the house does not look too hot, either.

One growth mechanism Gross identified is the export route. With the decline in the dollar, export is definitely paying for the recent gains in the American economy. However, Gross himself just wrote about the decline in global trade over this past year. With the worldwide loss in savings this past year, and the decline in global demand, I'm not sure if export will be enough.

One semi-bright spot from the Black Friday shopping report is that the rich are spending again. I wonder if it's enough.

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