Team Obama has taken to trumpeting the idea that the recession is over. As Ed Harrison likes to point out, the fact that we will see inventory restocking will produce a statistical recovery, at least in reported GDP. But the US in 1931 and Japan after its bubbles burst both featured a period in which the economy stabilized, and pundits for the most part concluded the worst was over. And in both cases, the economy resumed its slide.
The data have moved from bad to mixed, which is a relative but not absolute improvement. But one of the negative developments, highlighted by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, is ugly indeed. Despite massive bailouts and liquidity supports, credit is contracting, and at a very rapid clip. If we are lucky, this may be a short-lived aberration. But if this pattern persists for any length of time, the prospects are not good at all.
From the Telegraph:
Professor Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research said US bank loans have fallen at an annual pace of almost 14pc in the three months to August (from $7,147bn to $6,886bn).
“There has been nothing like this in the USA since the 1930s,” he said. “The rapid destruction of money balances is madness.”
The M3 “broad” money supply, watched as an early warning signal for the economy a year or so later, has been falling at a 5pc annual rate.
Similar concerns have been raised by David Rosenberg, chief strategist at Gluskin Sheff, who said that over the four weeks up to August 24, bank credit shrank at an “epic” 9pc annual pace, the M2 money supply shrank at 12.2pc and M1 shrank at 6.5pc….
Mr Congdon said a key reason for credit contraction is pressure on banks to raise their capital ratios. While this is well-advised in boom times, it makes matters worse in a downturn.
“The current drive to make banks less leveraged and safer is having the perverse consequence of destroying money balances,” he said. “It strengthens the deflationary forces in the world economy. That increases the risks of a double-dip recession in 2010.”
Referring to the debt-purge policy of US Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon in the early 1930s, he added: “The pressure on banks to de-risk and to de-leverage is the modern version of liquidationism: it is potentially just as dangerous.”
US banks are cutting lending by around 1pc a month. A similar process is occurring in the eurozone, where private sector credit has been contracting and M3 has been flat for almost a year.
Yves here. Note that the “reducing loans” takes place not only via tougher lending standards, but also pricing. Look at how banks have jacked up rates on credit cards. Now admittedly, many consumers are trying to cut back, but now it is becoming too costly not to.
William White, of the BIS, one of first to warn of the dangers of leverage, today said that he saw a strong recovery as particularly unlikely. But the true believers are not deterred.