Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Party like there's no tomorrow

The Queen of the United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth realms famously asked a bunch of eminent academics at the London School of Economics why nobody noticed the Great Recession before it arrived.

A simple question that all of us regular people have.  Of course, all the economists do was hem and haw and look the other way.  After all, as the joke goes, economists have correctly predicted 7 of the past 4 recessions!

Predicting the next recession is not easy.  It is impossible.  But, hey, I am not an economist; so, it is not like my reputation is on the line or anything ;)  But, I wonder if we are getting closer and closer to the next one.

Four years after the Queen asked that question, she got an answer:
Sujit Kapadia from the Bank's financial services committee gave the Queen three reasons why the crisis happened - one of which was that it was rare event which made it difficult to predict.
He added: "People thought markets were efficient, people thought regulation wasn't necessary. Because the economy was stable there was this growing complacency,"
"Thirdly, people didn't realise just how interconnected the system had become."
The Queen replied: "I suppose, in money terms, it is very difficult to foresee. But people had got a bit lax. Have they?"
The system is even more interconnected compared to a decade ago.  We have in power at the Oval Office, in the Senate, and in the House, maniacs who believe that regulation is unnecessary.  And, we the people have become a tad too complacent. They don't add up well, do they?
Rapid technological advances are propelling the U.S. economy into a new paradigm, unemployment is the lowest in decades, corporate debt is rising, inflation is dormant and the expansion is one of the longest on record, even if growth isn’t that hot.
Much of that growth is being driven by consumer spending fueled not by rising income, but by borrowing more and running down savings, which have slumped to historically low levels.
Sound like the U.S. economy today? Yes, it does. It’s also the U.S. economy of July 2000
Yep, American consumers are at it again. Spending the money that we don't have, confident that the boom times will continue forever.

So, for how long can consumers can carry on spending, while saving practically nothing at all?
“The toxic mix of rising interest rates, falling savings, low or falling incomes and high levels of corporate debt is a train crash waiting to happen,” said Ann Pettifor, director at Policy Research in Macroeconomics in London. 
Any other perspectives?
The historically low household savings rate has caught the eye of Bernstein, which is now at least partially reconsidering its positive economic outlook for 2018.
 "A big financial shock — which is a plausible scenario for 2018 — not only would damage the consumption forecast but could end the expansion itself," Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, an economist at Bernstein, wrote in a client note. "For 2018 it remains a core cyclical recession scenario in our coverage."
Always keep in mind that the day before the stock market crash of 1929, an eminent economist of the day, Irving Fisher, made the worst prediction ever:


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