Sunday, February 10, 2008

Economic Fragmentation


Two weeks ago, I wrote about the implications of state unemployment rates. There was the glaring disparity between states like Michigan and California versus Virgina.

The Economist has put that into the larger perspective of all states' unemployment and housing price changes on this map:

[click image for larger view]

Once again Virginia, which is closely aligned with the growth of the federal government, and western states with very small populations have been spared from economic downturn. As the article in the Economist states:

"So far, much of the misery has been concentrated in one sector—housing—and in two distinct sets of states: the industrial Midwest and those states that saw the biggest housing bubble, particularly California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. These two groups are disproportionately important politically. They include many states that voted early in the primary races. Several of them (such as Michigan and Florida) are traditionally swing states in the general election.

The situation is still grimmest in Michigan, Ohio and other erstwhile manufacturing strongholds, where the subprime bust came on top of the secular loss of factory jobs. But the most dramatic weakening has been in bubble states. Economies that were buoyed by booming construction and soaring house prices are now being dragged down.

California's mighty economy is visibly wobbling. In some cities, house prices are falling at double-digit rates and the unemployment rate has jumped from 4.8% to 6.1% in the past year, an increase twice as steep as the national trend. In Los Angeles, the weak dollar and slower consumer spending have sharply cut import-traffic through the port. This downturn is not as gut-wrenching as those in the early 1990s or 2001, when core industries such as defence and technology suffered badly. But it is steep enough to have thrown the state's budget into disarray and derailed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's ambitious plans for health-care reform."

On the brighter side, the free-fall of the dollar [an adjustment to the current account deficit, the Federal Reserve's wildly fluctuating interest rates, unfettered greed and manipulation by the investment and banking sectors, and the massive increase in the federal budget deficit pushed farther by a stimulus package] will eventually lead to more manufacturing and export opportunities and a rebound in the overall economy.

However, there may be a longer road to recovery than usual according to the Economist:
"A downturn centred on housing will have pernicious effects, even on the regions it hits least. That is because it constrains one of the biggest safety valves in America's economy: people's ability to move. Previous downturns spawned sizeable migrations from recessionary states to booming ones. In the early 1990s, for instance, people flocked from New England to southern states. This time, that mobility is hampered by people's inability to sell their homes. Unemployment may go on rising in California, even though Montana cannot get the workers it needs."
So how do we avoid this unpleasantness? It appears we don't... unless we can get investors from China and Saudi Arabia to buy all of those unsalable homes. After all, they have all of our manufacturing and energy money and need to spend those dollars somewhere.
Tell me again why outsourcing [here, here, and here] leading to manufacturing collapse (let's blame the Republicans) and a restrictive energy policy leading to energy price inflation (let's blame the Democrats) are so good?

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There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.
Henry Louis Mencken (1880–1956)
“The Divine Afflatus,” A Mencken Chrestomathy, chapter 25, p. 443 (1949)
... and one could add "not all human problems really are."
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Tracking Interest Rates

Tracking Interest Rates


SEARCH BLOG: FEDERAL RESERVE for full versions... or use the Blog Archive pulldown menu.

February 3, 2006
Go back to 1999-2000 and see what the Fed did. They are following the same pattern for 2005-06. If it ain't broke, the Fed will fix it... and good!
August 29, 2006 The Federal Reserve always acts on old information... and is the only cause of U.S. recessions.
December 5, 2006 Last spring I wrote about what I saw to be a sharp downturn in the economy in the "rustbelt" states, particularly Michigan.
March 28, 2007
The Federal Reserve sees no need to cut interest rates in the light of adverse recent economic data, Ben Bernanke said on Wednesday.
The Fed chairman said ”to date, the incoming data have supported the view that the current stance of policy is likely to foster sustainable economic growth and a gradual ebbing in core inflation”.

July 21, 2007 My guess is that if there is an interest rate change, a cut is more likely than an increase. The key variables to be watching at this point are real estate prices and the inventory of unsold homes.
August 11, 2007 I suspect that within 6 months the Federal Reserve will be forced to lower interest rates before housing becomes a black hole.
September 11, 2007 It only means that the overall process has flaws guaranteeing it will be slow in responding to changes in the economy... and tend to over-react as a result.
September 18, 2007 I think a 4% rate is really what is needed to turn the economy back on the right course. The rate may not get there, but more cuts will be needed with employment rates down and foreclosure rates up.
October 25, 2007 How long will it be before I will be able to write: "The Federal Reserve lowered its lending rate to 4% in response to the collapse of the U.S. housing market and massive numbers of foreclosures that threaten the banking and mortgage sectors."
"Should the elevated turbulence persist, it would increase the possibility of further tightening in financial conditions for households and businesses," he said.

"Uncertainties about the economic outlook are unusually high right now," he said. "These uncertainties require flexible and pragmatic policymaking -- nimble is the adjective I used a few weeks ago."

December 11, 2007 Somehow the Fed misses the obvious.
[Image from:]
December 13, 2007 [from The Christian Science Monitor]
"The odds of a recession are now above 50 percent," says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's "We are right on the edge of a recession in part because of the Fed's reluctance to reduce interest rates more aggressively." [see my comments of September 11]
January 7, 2008 The real problem now is that consumers can't rescue the economy and manufacturing, which is already weakening, will continue to weaken. We've gutted the forces that could avoid a downturn. The question is not whether there will be a recession, but can it be dampened sufficiently so that it is very short.
January 11, 2008 This is death by a thousand cuts.
January 13, 2008 [N.Y. Times]
“The question is not whether we will have a recession, but how deep and prolonged it will be,” said David Rosenberg, the chief North American economist at Merrill Lynch. “Even if the Fed’s moves are going to work, it will not show up until the later part of 2008 or 2009.
January 17, 2008 A few days ago, Anna Schwartz, nonagenarian economist, implicated the Federal Reserve as the cause of the present lending crisis [from the Telegraph - UK]:
The high priestess of US monetarism - a revered figure at the Fed - says the central bank is itself the chief cause of the credit bubble, and now seems stunned as the consequences of its own actions engulf the financial system. "The new group at the Fed is not equal to the problem that faces it," she says, daring to utter a thought that fellow critics mostly utter sotto voce.
January 22, 2008 The cut has become infected and a limb is in danger. Ben Bernanke is panicking and the Fed has its emergency triage team cutting rates... this time by 3/4%. ...

What should the Federal Reserve do now? Step back... and don't be so anxious to raise rates at the first sign of economic improvement.
Individuals and businesses need stability in their financial cost structures so that they can plan effectively and keep their ships afloat. Wildly fluctuating rates... regardless of what the absolute levels are... create problems. Either too much spending or too much fear. It's just not that difficult to comprehend. Why has it been so difficult for the Fed?

About Me

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Michigan, United States
Air Force (SAC) captain 1968-72. Retired after 35 years of business and logistical planning, including running a small business. Two sons with advanced degrees; one with a business and pre-law degree. Beautiful wife who has put up with me for 4 decades. Education: B.A. (Sociology major; minors in philosopy, English literature, and German) M.S. Operations Management (like a mixture of an MBA with logistical planning)