As we’ve been saying here in Syntagma for some months, a long, deep worldwide recession now looks more likely than not. Opinions are hardening among key players, principally in America and Britain.
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Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal proclaimed : “U.S. warning signs point toward deep recession”.
Most economic analysts regard the stock market as an early indicator of economic conditions in a year or 18 months time. London’s market has lost more than 13 percent of its value in just three weeks. Wall Street was closed yesterday, but will doubtless catch up today.
The current consensus is that 2008 will be bad, but 2009 could be much worse. The second decade of this century may resemble the 1930s in the worst-case scenario.
Problems continue to pile up. Banks have been writing off around 14 percent of the 2006 batch of collaterallized debt obligations (CDOs). This percentage is currently being upgraded to 19 percent, ensuring more pain to come. The total exposure by banks could be as much as $500 billion.
Making matters worse, the insurance companies, or Monolines, that underwrite possible defaults, are also in trouble, with two of the biggest in the U.S. said to be close to Chapter 11 status (a form of bankruptcy protection against creditors).
Moreover, the very banks relied upon to rescue Western institutions, like the Bank of China, are also said to be exposed to the U.S. sub-prime slice and dice fantasy.
Another crushing problem — now endemic in developed countries — is the level of personal debt. A typical person now spends one-seventh of their income on debt repayments, compared to around 10 percent a decade ago. In Britain alone, household debt is running at an unprecedented Â£1.4 trillion ($2.75 trillion). Add to that the massive levels of public spending in recent years and it’s clear this can’t be sustained for much longer.
The principle of “moral hazard” means that sooner rather than later everyone has to face up to their debts and start paying them off. There are no lenders out there now who will aggregate them at a lower repayment level. The adjustment to lower debt levels is desperately needed.
Unhappily, it will represent very hard times for many, some very poor indeed, and a massive writedown of Western assets, many transferring to Asia. The loss of that income in future decades will materially affect the West’s ability to dominate as it has done in the past.
Many businesses are also going to be in deep shock this year and next. Those that survive will have low levels of debt, and shares in safe hands — not bankers, buyers or lenders who are desperate for cash to rebuild shattered balance sheets.
So, is a recession a good outcome or is it as disastrous as it seems? On one level it’s totally disastrous, especially to those innocently caught up in the credit crash. It’s also bad for the reason that we’re being pulled down by voracious greed. Greed by the banks for giving NINJA morgages (no income, no job, no assets) and then selling them on in bits and pieces. Greed also by the banks that bought them. And greed by consumers in running up such heavy debts in the good times, leaving little to repay them in the bad.
However, this can also be seen as a necessary correction to a self-inflicted train wreck. Moral hazard demands a reckoning. Our Faustian deal with the Devil has a repayment package at its fulfilment. Soon, we will know the worst.
Update : The Fed has just cut American base rates by an unusually large 75 basis points or 0.75 percent, a sign that Bernanke is serious about taking a machete to rates to head off a recession.
The White House has also indicated the President may increase his upcoming fiscal stimulus (tax cut) from the $150billion already announced.