Tag: macroeconomics

Recovery – or Not – in Words and Pictures

First, the pictures. Paul Swartz of the Council on Foreign Relations has a new version of his charts on the current recession in historical perspective, which I first linked to in June. The overall impression? We are still considerably worse off today than in other postwar recessions at this point (21 months in), although some indicators appear to be bottoming out.

Now the words. Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns has a guest post at naked capitalism presenting the arguments for a robust recovery and for no recovery at all. He cites Joseph Stiglitz for the proposition that statistical GDP growth isn’t everything, and extends the point to argue that  you can have “low-quality” GDP growth if that growth is financed by debt without corresponding investment. When you happen to control the world’s reserve currency you can do this for quite some time, and there’s no saying we can’t do it for a while longer. So one possibility Harrison foresees is a reasonable growth fueled by cheap money, yet no change to some of our underlying economic problems, including a financial sector with a put option from the federal government.

By James Kwak

Krugman on Economics

This weekend’s New York Times Magazine has the 7,000-word article about the state of macroeconomics that Paul Krugman has been hinting at for some time now. It’s a well-written, non-technical overview of the landscape and the position Krugman has been presenting on his blog, which for now I’ll just summarize for those who may not have the time to set aside just now.

Like many, Krugman faults the discipline for its infatuation with mathematical elegance:

“[T]he central cause of the profession’s failure was the desire for an all-encompassing, intellectually elegant approach that also gave economists a chance to show off their mathematical prowess.

“Unfortunately, this romanticized and sanitized vision of the economy led most economists to ignore all the things that can go wrong. They turned a blind eye to the limitations of human rationality that often lead to bubbles and busts; to the problems of institutions that run amok; to the imperfections of markets — especially financial markets — that can cause the economy’s operating system to undergo sudden, unpredictable crashes; and to the dangers created when regulators don’t believe in regulation.”

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S&P Revises Expectations for the Economy Downward

Calculated Risk reports that S&P is increasing its forecasts for losses on subprime mortgages again. As I’ve said before, in principle this means that their expectations about the economy are worse today than they were yesterday. They’re not just saying that defaults will go up; they’re saying that they will go up by more than they thought before today.

I previously discussed why I think this is weird, and there are a number of good comments to that earlier post. My theory that they are trying to spread out the deterioration of their forecasts over several months to save face got some support. q and others explained that rating agencies lag the economy because they base their forecasts on published economic data. That may be true, and it may be the best explanation for what is going on, but if so it seems like a condemnation of the rating agencies, since their job is to estimate the likelihood of default, and one of the inputs to their models should be the economic situation. (Or maybe their job is to estimate default likelihood assuming “normal” economic conditions, and it’s up to the investor to adjust accordingly.)

Note that these are their macroeconomic forecasts, not revisions to ratings of specific bonds, so the bond-rating schedule isn’t the driving factor here.

By James Kwak

Recovery – or Not – in Pictures

Simon’s weekend summary included this sentence on the macroeconomic situation: “The real economy begins to bottom out, although unemployment will not peak for a while and could stay high for several years.”

We are now in that phase of the crisis when there is a lot of arguing about whether things are going well or poorly, and that largely comes down to whether the current slowdown in the rate at which things are getting worse (that’s all it is so far) will be followed by a healthy recovery, a prolonged period of stagnation, or an accelerated contraction brought on by higher oil prices, a new bank panic caused by defaults in credit cards and commercial mortgage-backed securities, or one of any number of other factors. I discussed this topic somewhat impressionistically a month ago; this time I’m going to highlight some analyses done by other people around the Internet.

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The Green Shoots Debate

Earlier today, Simon suggested that “we are out of the panic phase of the crisis.” Bond Girl said in response, “There appears to be some confusion between exiting the panic phase of the crisis and actually recovering.” That is something that I certainly agree with, and I suspect Simon does as well (although he may not agree with her entire comment.) 

There has been a lot of discussion of “green shoots” scattered around the Internet recently. Most of it, I think is premature. A lot of economic indicators seem to show that things are getting worse at a slower rate than before. One major source of optimism was last week’s jobs report, which showed a net loss of “only” 539,000 jobs. Here’s an excerpt from the New York Times coverage:

Yet the deterioration was milder than expected, prompting encouraging talk.

“The most intense spate of weakness is probably behind us,” said Michael T. Darda, chief economist at the research and trading firm MKM Partners. “Less bad is always a prelude to good. It’s going to take some time for this economy to get back on its feet, but we might be closer to the recession ending.”

Investors bought into that message, sending stock prices soaring.

To put this in perspective, I turn to the always-accurate Menzie Chinn (follow the link for a good picture):

Revisions are downward (but getting smaller over time), the growth rate becomes less negative, but hours continue to decline rapidly.

Continue reading “The Green Shoots Debate”