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An Economy Hanging by the Thread

Article by Mike Whitney.
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A bleak jobs report sent stocks and commodities tumbling on Wednesday, while new signs of distress gripped the service industries index. An updated report from the ADP showed that private sector hiring slowed more than expected from March to April as companies struggled to meet rising raw material costs and flagging consumer demand. The service industry index (ISM) –which “ranges from utilities and retailing to health care, finance and transportation”–slumped to its lowest level since August signaling widespread deceleration and a progressive deterioration in the fundamentals. The turnaround has forced economists to rethink their projections for 2nd Quarter GDP and to watch more vigilantly for signs of contraction. This is from the New York Times:

“The economy lost steam in the first quarter. Growth in personal consumption — the single largest component of the economy — slowed markedly. Business-related construction cratered and residential construction fell. Exports stumbled. The only unambiguous plus was continued business investment in equipment and software, which is necessary but not sufficient for overall growth.

In all, economic growth slowed from an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 to 1.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011….

When lauding the economy, Mr. Bernanke and many other economists and politicians point out, correctly, that the unemployment rate has declined from a recession high of 10.1 percent in late 2009 to 8.8 percent now. That would be encouraging news if it indicated robust hiring for good jobs. It does not.

Over the last year, the number of new hires has been outstripped by the masses who have either given up looking for work or who have not undertaken a consistent job search, say, after graduating from high school or college. Those missing millions are not counted in the official jobless rate; if they were, unemployment today would be 9.8 percent. The rate would be 15.7 percent if it included those who took part-time jobs in lieu of full-time ones.” (“The Economy Slows” New York Times)

So, even the New York Times agrees that unemployment would be nearly 16 percent if the figures were correctly calculated. Those are Depression numbers. 14 million people are out of work and record numbers of people are on food stamps (44 million)

Wednesday’s down-market sent commodities plunging as signs of emerging deflation pushed investors into Treasuries. Gold and silver fell sharply. Troubles in Japan, China and the eurozone have intensified fears of a global slowdown and perhaps another bout of recession. The dollar strengthened for the third straight session, in spite of the Fed’s zero rates and $600 billion bond buying program. Trillions of dollars in monetary and fiscal stimulus have jolted stocks back to life, but debt-deflation dynamics in the broader economy are as strong as ever. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, consumer retrenchment has reduced discretionary spending, and housing continues its inexorable nosedive. The stock market continues to inch higher buoyed by central bank liquidity and margin debt, but investors are increasingly skittish and searching for direction.

The soaring price of gas has shifted consumer spending from retail to energy consumption, the opposite of what the Fed had intended.

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1 reply »

  1. There’s so much to be done. I really feel like a combination of John Robb’s Resilient Communities, Kevin Carson’s distributed manufacturing, and the traditional city format advocated for at http://oldurbanist.blogspot.com/ and newworldeconomics.com will the be the cure for this crash and burn crony capitalist economy. The problem is that people move slower than turtles when it comes to lifestyle changes, even when it makes sense.

    I think we should be building communities where a household can slash its utility bill to a fraction of the cost people typically pay today and still live in comfort. Also build them around transportation efficiency and make them aesthetically pleasing.

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