Best of the Week
Most Popular
1. US Housing Market Real Estate Crash The Next Shoe To Drop – Part II - Chris_Vermeulen
2.The Coronavirus Greatest Economic Depression in History? - Nadeem_Walayat
3.US Real Estate Housing Market Crash Is The Next Shoe To Drop - Chris_Vermeulen
4.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications and AI Mega-trend Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
5. Are Coronavirus Death Statistics Exaggerated? Worse than Seasonal Flu or Not?- Nadeem_Walayat
6.Coronavirus Stock Market Trend Implications, Global Recession and AI Stocks Buying Levels - Nadeem_Walayat
7.US Fourth Turning Accelerating Towards Debt Climax - James_Quinn
8.Dow Stock Market Trend Analysis and Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
9.Britain's FAKE Coronavirus Death Statistics Exposed - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Commodity Markets Crash Catastrophe Charts - Rambus_Chartology
Last 7 days
Coronavirus: UK Parents Demand ALL Schools OPEN September, 7 Million Children Abandoned by Teachers - 9th Aug 20
Computer GPU Fans Not Spinning Quick FIX - Sticky Fans Solution - 9th Aug 20
Find the Best Speech Converter for You - 9th Aug 20
Silver Bull Market Update - 7th Aug 20
This Inflation-Adjusted Silver Chart Tells An Interesting Story - 7th Aug 20
The Great American Housing Boom Has Begun - 7th Aug 20
NATURAL GAS BEGINS UPSIDE BREAKOUT MOVE - 7th Aug 20
Know About Lotteries With The Best Odds Of Winning - 7th Aug 20
Could Gold Price Reach $7,000 by 2030? - 6th Aug 20
Bananas for All! Keep Dancing… FOMC - 6th Aug 20
How to Do Bets During This Time - 6th Aug 20
How to develop your stock trading strategy - 6th Aug 20
Stock Investors What to do if Trump Bans TikTok - 5th Aug 20
Gold Trifecta of Key Signals for Gold Mining Stocks - 5th Aug 20
ARE YOU LOVING YOUR SERVITUDE? - 5th Aug 20
Stock Market Uptrend Continues? - 4th Aug 20
The Dimensions of Covid-19: The Hong Kong Flu Redux - 4th Aug 20
High Yield Junk Bonds Are Hot Again -- Despite Warning Signs - 4th Aug 20
Gold Stocks Autumn Rally - 4th Aug 20
“Government Sachs” Is Worried About the Federal Reserve Note - 4th Aug 20
Gold Miners Still Pushing That Cart of Rocks Up Hill - 4th Aug 20
UK Government to Cancel Christmas - Crazy Covid Eid 2020! - 4th Aug 20
Covid-19 Exposes NHS Institutional Racism Against Black and Asian Staff and Patients - 4th Aug 20
How Sony Is Fueling the Computer Vision Boom - 3rd Aug 20
Computer Gaming System Rig Top Tips For 6 Years Future Proofing Build Spec - 3rd Aug 20
Cornwwall Bude Caravan Park Holidays 2020 - Look Inside Holiday Resort Caravan - 3rd Aug 20
UK Caravan Park Holidays 2020 Review - Hoseasons Cayton Bay North East England - 3rd Aug 20
Best Travel Bags for 2020 Summer Holidays , Back Sling packs, water proof, money belt and tactical - 3rd Aug 20
Precious Metals Warn Of Increased Volatility Ahead - 2nd Aug 20
The Key USDX Sign for Gold and Silver - 2nd Aug 20
Corona Crisis Will Have Lasting Impact on Gold Market - 2nd Aug 20
Gold & Silver: Two Pictures - 1st Aug 20
The Bullish Case for Stocks Isn't Over Yet - 1st Aug 20
Is Gold Price Action Warning Of Imminent Monetary Collapse - Part 2? - 1st Aug 20
Will America Accept the World's Worst Pandemic Response Government - 1st Aug 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More – Part II - 1st Aug 20
Trump White House Accelerating Toward a US Dollar Crisis - 31st Jul 20
Why US Commercial Real Estate is Set to Get Slammed - 31st Jul 20
Gold Price Blows Through Upside Resistance - The Chase Is On - 31st Jul 20
Is Crude Oil Price Setting Up for a Waterfall Decline? - 31st Jul 20
Stock Market Technical Patterns, Future Expectations and More - 30th Jul 20
Why Big Money Is Already Pouring Into Edge Computing Tech Stocks - 30th Jul 20
Economic and Geopolitical Worries Fuel Gold’s Rally - 30th Jul 20
How to Finance an Investment Property - 30th Jul 20
I Hate Banks - Including Goldman Sachs - 29th Jul 20
NASDAQ Stock Market Double Top & Price Channels Suggest Pending Price Correction - 29th Jul 20
Silver Price Surge Leaves Naysayers in the Dust - 29th Jul 20
UK Supermarket Covid-19 Shop - Few Masks, Lack of Social Distancing (Tesco) - 29th Jul 20
Budgie Clipped Wings, How Long Before it Can Fly Again? - 29th Jul 20
How To Take Advantage Of Tesla's 400% Stock Surge - 29th Jul 20
Gold Makes Record High and Targets $6,000 in New Bull Cycle - 28th Jul 20
Gold Strong Signal For A Secular Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Anatomy of a Gold and Silver Precious Metals Bull Market - 28th Jul 20
Shopify Is Seizing an $80 Billion Pot of Gold - 28th Jul 20
Stock Market Minor Correction Underway - 28th Jul 20
Why College Is Never Coming Back - 27th Jul 20
Stocks Disconnect from Economy, Gold Responds - 27th Jul 20
Silver Begins Big Upside Rally Attempt - 27th Jul 20
The Gold and Silver Markets Have Changed… What About You? - 27th Jul 20
Google, Apple And Amazon Are Leading A $30 Trillion Assault On Wall Street - 27th Jul 20
This Stock Market Indicator Reaches "Lowest Level in Nearly 20 Years" - 26th Jul 20
New Wave of Economic Stimulus Lifts Gold Price - 26th Jul 20
Stock Market Slow Grind Higher Above the Early June Stock Highs - 26th Jul 20
How High Will Silver Go? - 25th Jul 20
If You Own Gold, Look Out Below - 25th Jul 20
Crude Oil and Energy Sets Up Near Major Resistance – Breakdown Pending - 25th Jul 20
FREE Access to Premium Market Forecasts by Elliott Wave International - 25th Jul 20
The Promise of Silver as August Approaches: Accumulation and Conversation - 25th Jul 20
The Silver Bull Gateway is at Hand - 24th Jul 20
The Prospects of S&P 500 Above the Early June Highs - 24th Jul 20
How Silver Could Surpass Its All-Time High - 24th Jul 20

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

How to Get Rich Investing in Stocks by Riding the Electron Wave

Extremely High Debt Levels Ensure Subdued Economic Recovery in 2010

Economics / US Debt May 04, 2009 - 06:49 PM GMT

By: John_Mauldin

Economics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleLate last week a letter from Jim Welsh crossed my desk. I started reading and found myself being pulled through his very thoughtful letter. I have not met Jim, but think this letter is worthy of an Outside the Box. Jim Welsh of Welsh Money Management has been publishing his monthly investment letter, "The Financial Commentator", since 1985. His analysis focuses on Federal Reserve monetary policy, and how policy affects the economy and the financial markets.


John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box

The Financial Commentator on the Economy

Perspective – A way of regarding facts and judging their relative importance.

There are a number of data series that evaluate economic conditions using a diffusion index. A diffusion index will have a value above 50, when a plurality of respondents are positive, and below 50 when a majority are negative. If a diffusion index increases from 35 to 38, it represents a gain of 8.6%, while a rise to 46 from 45 is only a gain of 2.2%. It is natural to think of the larger percentage gain to be more noteworthy. However, the smaller gain is actually more significant, since it will only require a small further improvement, before actual economic growth is achieved. In recent weeks, many economists and market strategists have heralded the end of the recession and the arrival of spring, after spotting a few 'green shoots' of improvement. In most cases, the 'green shoot' was a modest up tick, from a multi-decade low! For instance, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index edged up to 26.0 in March, from 25.3 in February, the lowest reading since records began in 1967.

In February, new home sales were up 4.7% to 337,000, and after that robust increase, were only down 75.7% from their July 2005 peak. In the last three years, housing starts have plunged from 1,823,000 to 358,000, or 80.4%. At the February sales rate, it will take 12.2 months to clear the inventory of new homes for sale, versus 5 months in a healthy market. In the past year, the median price of a new home has fallen from $251,000 to $200,900, a drop of 20%.After retail sales collapsed in the fourth quarter, the inventory-to-sales ratio soared from 1.25 to 1.45, or 16%. Companies were forced to cut production drastically in the first quarter, so bloated inventories could be whittled down. Although the ratio dipped to 1.43 in February, production levels will remain low, until the ratio falls further. The large decline in production will contribute to a fairly weak first quarter, and depress second quarter GDP too.

As noted last month, there is a good chance that GDP will post a positive print in the fourth quarter of this year, and maybe in the third quarter. Most of the 'gain' will be statistical nonsense, but that won't deter most economists from getting excited. In the last 2 years, the 80% plunge in housing starts has subtracted about .9% from GDP each quarter. If housing starts stabilize near February's level in coming months, the .9% hit to GDP will become 0%. If inventories are brought down by the fourth quarter and are in line with sales, the decline of 1% to 2% to GDP from production cuts in the first and second quarter could also improve to 0%. In the fourth quarter last year, personal consumption fell an extraordinary -2.99%, as consumers turned into Grinches.
But consumer spending improved in the first quarter, as government income transfers of $127 billion offset the decline in wages and salaries of $89 billion. In the second quarter, social security recipients will receive a onetime $250 payment in May. Tax refunds are up 11% from last year, and the decline in gasoline prices is also providing a boost to incomes. Consumers will use the extra disposable income to pay down debt, and increase savings and spending. All of these factors should help swing personal consumption to a positive for GDP in coming quarters.

In the second quarter of 2008, GDP grew 2.8%, which is a respectable number. Despite this growth, job losses continued each month, and a self sustaining economic expansion failed to take hold. The most important issue in the next 12 to 15 months is whether the rebound in the second half of 2009 and first half of 2010 will gain enough traction to launch a self sustaining economic recovery. There are many reasons why I remain skeptical.
In the first three months of 2009, more than 2 million jobs were lost, causing the unemployment rate to jump from 7.6% to 8.5%, the highest since November 1983. The unemployment rate increased in March in 46 states, with California, the world's eighth largest economy, hitting 11.2%, the highest since January 1941.

Underemployment, which combines the unemployed, with involuntary part time workers and discouraged workers, reached 15.6%. As noted in recent months, post World War II recessions have on average caused personal income to fall between 4% and 7%, and this one has further to go. Wages and salaries shrank at a 4% annual rate in the first quarter, and according to Deutsche Bank, payroll-tax withholding receipts collected by the Treasury Department are down 8.2% from a year ago. This suggests that personal income growth will remain weak in coming months, and shave more than $250 billion from total income and future demand. Changes in temporary jobs lead reversals in the overall labor market by 6 to 10 months. In 2007, a continuous decline in temporary jobs and hours worked led me to forecast a decline in jobs in 2008. When non-farm jobs fell in January 2008, most economists were shocked, and the stock market sold off sharply. In March, employers cut 71,700 temporary workers, so any real improvement in job growth is many months away.

Most economists are quick to note that unemployment is a lagging indicator, and they're right. But the magnitude of the job losses shouldn't be dismissed so glibly, given the impact they are having on the banking system. The American Bankers Association reported that 3.22% of consumer loans were delinquent at the end of 2008. That is the highest level since the ABA began tracking overall loan delinquency rates in the mid 1970's. And that was before 2 million jobs were lost in the first quarter.

An average of 5,945 bankruptcy petitions were filed each day in March, up 9% from February and 38% from a year ago. The soaring job losses since last September are certainly behind the increase in bankruptcies.

The surge in job losses are working their way up the income ladder, with an increasing number of middle income and upper middle income workers being affected. This is pushing many of those who previously were considered prime credit risks over the edge. Two-thirds of mortgages in the U.S. are held by the best credit risk, prime borrowers. According to the American Bankers Association, 5.06% of prime borrowers have missed at least one mortgage payment. Since prime borrowers are such a large group, this represents 1.8 million mortgages. Although the delinquency rate for sub prime mortgages is up to 21.9%, it only accounts for 1.2 million mortgages.

In the fourth quarter, a number of states mandated a freeze on foreclosures, and a number of banks, not wanting to be a modern day Mr. Potter during the holidays, voluntarily suspended foreclosures. According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings increased to 341,180 in March, up 17% from February, and up 46% from a year ago. After the foreclosure moratorium expired in California, notices of trustee sales, which precede foreclosure sales, climbed more than 80% to 33,178 in March from February. Moody's Economy.com estimates more than 2.1 million homes will be lost this year, up from 1.7 in 2008.
Existing home sales have declined 33.3% since peaking in September 2005. The median price has dropped 28.7%, after peaking in July 2006 at $230,900.

In February, existing homes sales increased 4.4%, and the median home price advanced 2.4%. The ratio of monthly sales to the inventory of homes for sale was 9.5 months, versus 5 months in a healthy market. However, 45% of the sales in February were foreclosures, and that proportion will remain high in coming months. Since foreclosed sales represent forced selling, the persistently high level of foreclosures will continue to push home prices lower. As home prices fall another 5% to 10% or more, more home owners will realize that their mortgage exceeds the value of their home. An increasing number are simply choosing to walk away, since they have nothing to lose.

According to RealtyTrac, job losses result in a home foreclosure 10% to 15% of the time. If job losses narrow from the monthly average of 670,000 in the first quarter to 325,000, almost 3 million more jobs will be lost before year end. That will translate into another 300,000-450,000 foreclosures, and an unemployment rate of almost 11%. But what if that estimate of job losses is too optimistic?

New research by the Federal Reserve and Boston University of credit spreads of 900 non-financial companies from 1990-2008 predicted changes in the economy 'phenomenally' well. Based on their initial research on low to medium risk corporate bonds with more than 15 years to maturity, the researchers went back to 1973 and found the analysis still worked well. With the massive widening of corporate bond spreads last fall, the researcher's model predicts the economy will lose another 7.8 million jobs by the end of 2009, and industrial production will fall another 17%. In the spirit of optimism, let's assume this 'phenomenal' model is off by 35%, due to the extreme nature of this credit crisis. That still results in another 5.1 million lost jobs, and an 11% drop in industrial production. In that scenario, the unemployment rate climbs to near 12.5%, the underemployment rate breaches 20%, and another 500,000-750,000 foreclosures result.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) now estimates the U.S., European, and Japanese financial sectors face losses of $4.1 trillion. Banks are confronting losses of $2.5 trillion, insurers $300 billion, and other financial institutions $1.3 trillion. To date, the banking sector has written down $1 trillion of expected losses. The IMF estimates that U.S. and European banks need to raise $875 billion in equity by next year to return to pre-crisis levels.

Over the last week a number of banks have reported first quarter earnings, which was a pleasant surprise. Citigroup said it made $1.6 billion. One of the ways Citigroup achieved this gain was booking a profit of $2.7 billion on the decline in Citi's own debt. Say what? Under accounting rules, Citi was allowed to book a one-time gain equivalent to the decline in its bonds because, in theory, it could buy back its debt cheaply and save $2.7 billion over time. Of course, Citi didn't actually do that. Even though more consumer loans went bad in the first quarter, Citi reduced its loan loss reserve from $3.4 billion in the fourth quarter to $2.1 billion in the first quarter, thereby picking up another $1.3 billion of 'earnings'. And the recent change in mark to market accounting enabled Citi to book an additional $413 million in 'profit' on impaired assets. Without theses one-time adjustments, Citi's $1.6 billion in first quarter profit becomes a $2.8 billion loss.

According to a Wall Street Journal analysis of Treasury Department data, the 19 banks that received tax payer funds made or refinanced 23% less in new loans in February versus last October. Why lend money when all you've got to do is make a few adjustments and make even more money.

Between 2000 and 2008, the major credit card companies increased the number of credit cards issued to small businesses from 5 million to 29 million. During that period, many small business owners increasingly relied on their cards to provide short term financing for their business. Spending on small business credit cards increased from $70.4 billion in 2000, to $296.3 billion, according to the Nilson Report. Over the last 15 months, business bankruptcy filings have risen faster than consumer bankruptcies, with the average charge-off rising to $11,000 from $7,000, according to Equifax, Inc. In response, the card issuers have been aggressively scaling back, and have reduced available credit lines by almost $500 billion. Just another example of how the availability of credit to the economy is evaporating, despite all the Fed's efforts.

Industrial production fell 1.5% in March, and is down 12.8% from a year ago. Capacity utilization fell to 69.3%, the lowest since records began in 1967. As I discussed in detail in January, excess capacity is a powerful dynamic. Companies are forced to reduce or eliminate budgeted investments in new equipment, compete for every dollar of revenue, even if it means accepting thinner profit margins, and reduce costs through job cuts. The amount of excess capacity that has been created by the depth of this economic contraction is unprecedented. What most inflation bugs and investors fail to understand is how long it will take to work off the current over hang of excess capacity. If the output gap grows from the current 7% to 10% next year, Goldman Sachs estimates it could be 2015 before all the excess capacity is used up, and that's if GDP grows 4.75% per year! Ironically, one of the reasons the economy is not likely to grow that fast is that business investment will be weaker than in prior business cycles. With so much excess capacity, businesses won't need to materially increase business investment for the next 2 or 3 years.

The economy needs to create 125,000 jobs each month, just to absorb the number of new entrants into the labor market. If job growth were to average 325,000 per month in coming years, it would still take four years to replace all the jobs lost in this recession. With so much excess labor capacity, wage growth will be weak for the next few years, which will make it harder for consumers to increase savings and spending. The combination of less credit availability, weaker business investment and consumer spending will be headwinds whenever the economy emerges from this recession.

The Untied States is mired in the deepest cyclical contraction since at least World War II, and arguably the depression. Falling home prices led us into this crisis, and home prices are still falling. The financial crisis in 2008 has become the economic crisis in 2009, as more than 2 million jobs were lost in just the first quarter, with another 3 to 5 million likely before year end. With the unemployment rate headed over 10%, and maybe up to 12% next year, the default rate on every type of consumer credit – (prime mortgages, Alt-A mortgages, Option Arm mortgages, sub-prime mortgages, home equity lines, credit cards, auto loans, student loans) – is headed much higher. Commercial real estate values are plunging, and corporate default rates are set to soar. Although every bank will 'pass' the government's stress test, some banks will fail the real world stress test, and need billions more in capital. Sooner or later, the Treasury Department will likely have to go hat in hand asking for more money from Congress for some of the banks. For the first time since World War II, the global economy will contract in 2009, so there aren't many places to hide. Although it is welcome to see a few 'green shoots', in this case, those green shoots are unlikely to yield a bountiful harvest in 2010.

In addition to the daunting cyclical problems challenging the economy, there are a number of significant secular issues I've discussed before that will make it even more difficult for a self sustaining recovery to develop in 2010. Between 1982 and 2007, the amount of Total debt grew from $1.60 to $3.53 for each $1.00 of GDP. This was made possible as the cost of money fell from 15% to 20% in 1982 to the generational lows of the last few years. As interest rates fell, consumers were able to take on more debt, without their monthly payments increasing very much.

Household debt has increased from $.44 in 1982 to $.98 for each dollar of GDP in 2007. However, there is no more relief coming from lower rates, soconsumers are going to have to pay for their debt from income. From the mid 1990's until 2007, most consumers had the luxury of believing that their homes and 401Ks would provide most of what they would need for their retirement. The saving rate fell from over 8% 15 years ago to near 0% in 2007. The last 18 months has convinced them they need to increase their savings. The saving rate has rebounded to near 4% in the last six months, which is one reason why the economy has been so weak. As debt levels increased over the last 25 years, GDP was boosted as consumer's bought cars, bigger homes, second homes, went on nice vacations, and basically lived the good life. However, since 1966, each dollar of additional debt has given the economy less of a boost.In 1966, $1 dollar of debt boosted GDP by $.93. But by 2007, $1 dollar of debt lifted GDP by less than $.20.

The message from these facts is fairly clear. Debt levels are high, and any increase in interest rates will impose a bigger burden on the economy and quickly stunt growth. Consumer debt is already so high and interest rates are so low that it will be difficult for consumers to add debt. This means economic growth will be far weaker than the debt induced growth of the last 25 years. As consumers increase their savings, GDP will be lowered by .70% for each 1% consumers increase their saving, since consumer spending represents almost 70% of GDP. In addition, the banking system remains crippled. Lending standards are high and are not coming down with the economy remaining weak. The need for additional capital will lower future lending by several trillion dollars, as banks work to repair their balance sheets and lower their leverage ratios from 30 to the low teens. The securitization markets provide more credit than the banking system, but they remain on life support. Credit availability will remain constrained well into 2010, which represents a headwind than will mute some of the lift from fiscal stimulus.

The diminishing boost given to GDP from each additional $1.00 of debt since 1966 strongly suggests that adding more debt will not return the economy to prosperity. I am reminded of a movie from the 1950's, 'The High and the Mighty'. It starred John Wayne and Robert Stack and was about an airline flight from Honolulu to San Francisco. During the flight, one of the engines fails, but they are past the point of no return, so they must try to make it to San Francisco. Over the last 60 years, the United States has used a combination of fiscal stimulus and monetary policy to soften each recession and spur the subsequent recovery, with a fair amount of apparent success. From 1982 until 2007, the U.S. only experienced two shallow recessions that each lasted just 8 months. This stretch of 25 years may be the best 25 years in our economic history. But much of this prosperity was bought with debt, as the ratio of debt to GDP rose from $1.60 to $3.50 for each $1.00 of GDP. Sometime in the last 25 years, we passed the point of no return. Unfortunately, Hollywood won't get to write the script on how this ends.

E. James Welsh


By John Mauldin

John Mauldin, Best-Selling author and recognized financial expert, is also editor of the free Thoughts From the Frontline that goes to over 1 million readers each week. For more information on John or his FREE weekly economic letter go to: http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/learnmore

To subscribe to John Mauldin's E-Letter please click here:http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/subscribe.asp

Copyright 2008 John Mauldin. All Rights Reserved
John Mauldin is president of Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor. All material presented herein is believed to be reliable but we cannot attest to its accuracy. Investment recommendations may change and readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. Opinions expressed in these reports may change without prior notice. John Mauldin and/or the staff at Millennium Wave Advisors, LLC may or may not have investments in any funds cited above. Mauldin can be reached at 800-829-7273.

Disclaimer PAST RESULTS ARE NOT INDICATIVE OF FUTURE RESULTS. THERE IS RISK OF LOSS AS WELL AS THE OPPORTUNITY FOR GAIN WHEN INVESTING IN MANAGED FUNDS. WHEN CONSIDERING ALTERNATIVE INVESTMENTS, INCLUDING HEDGE FUNDS, YOU SHOULD CONSIDER VARIOUS RISKS INCLUDING THE FACT THAT SOME PRODUCTS: OFTEN ENGAGE IN LEVERAGING AND OTHER SPECULATIVE INVESTMENT PRACTICES THAT MAY INCREASE THE RISK OF INVESTMENT LOSS, CAN BE ILLIQUID, ARE NOT REQUIRED TO PROVIDE PERIODIC PRICING OR VALUATION INFORMATION TO INVESTORS, MAY INVOLVE COMPLEX TAX STRUCTURES AND DELAYS IN DISTRIBUTING IMPORTANT TAX INFORMATION, ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE SAME REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS AS MUTUAL FUNDS, OFTEN CHARGE HIGH FEES, AND IN MANY CASES THE UNDERLYING INVESTMENTS ARE NOT TRANSPARENT AND ARE KNOWN ONLY TO THE INVESTMENT MANAGER.

John Mauldin Archive

© 2005-2019 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

6 Critical Money Making Rules