The danger of hyping a technical recovery is that it will arrive, with much fanfare—but fail to make ordinary consumers feel better off. Many economists, for example, are predicting that the recession will officially end by this summer or fall. The only problem is that when a technical recovery begins, a lot of companies fail to get the memo. They don't play along; they keep payrolls lean and maybe even continuing to lay off workers. So to guard against false optimism, here's how to tell when a real recovery is finally kicking into gear:
Unemployment improves. The single best indicator of the health of the economy is the job market. People who have lost their job, or worry that they might, obviously hoard their money and don't spend. That spells doom for an economy driven by consumer spending, as ours is. But once it's clear that jobs are coming back, consumers are more likely to relax and open their wallets....
Housing prices stabilize. This has become a mantra by now: For the economy to get healthy, housing prices must stop falling. Problem is, the houses haven't been listening.
Housing matters for two reasons: It represents a big chunk of the economy, and it's the largest single repository of Americans' household wealth. With prices falling, buyers are scarce, since nobody wants to buy an expensive good today if it's going to be worth less tomorrow. With few buyers, all the other economic activity that swirls around real estate—remodeling, appliance and furniture sales, relocation services—is depressed. Homeowners are worse off, too, because the value of one of their vital assets is eroding....
Household wealth increases. The housing bust and the volatile stock market have hammered the traditional investment tools that most Americans use, causing epic declines in the wealth of Americans. Since 2006, household net worth has declined by about $12 trillion, which equates to about $107,000 of lost wealth for each of America's 112 million households. That's partly because of the 40 percent plunge in the stock market since October 2007 and partly because of the steep declines in real estate values.
President Obama stops fudging on the economy. There's still a lot that could go wrong, and Obama knows it. Yet part of the president's job is to reassure skittish Americans, even as his economic lieutenants are fighting battles in the war room. That's why Obama has been making half-hearted pronouncements, like saying that the economy shows "some return to normalcy" and that "we expect there'll be some stabilization of the economy." Virtually all of Obama's remarks on the economy contain modifiers and future tense and a not-quite-there-yet quality, since he'll blow his own credibility if he tries to convince Americans that they're better off than they actually are. When Obama starts hedging less, be happy. That will signal better days. Finally.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Where is the Recession At?
Everyday we seem to hear about the green shoots. Shouts that the recovery is here. The recession is over. The recession is over. Then some hard numbers come out and everyone stops to ponder where exactly we are on the road to recovery. Are we past the turning point? Or is this just a lull and everyone is getting very comfortable? One argument often made is that since there has been no real fundamental changes to the banking system that we are not on the road to out of the recession. This week US News gives us an article titled 4 Ways to Tell Whether A Real Recovery Has Begun. Let's take a look -