It’s a STRUCTURAL problem not a CYCLICAL problem!
It’s a DEMAND problem not a SUPPLY problem!
I gave President Barrack Obama six months to roll-out his doomed Keynesian policies, twelve months to discover they were flawed and eighteen months to realize that the solution to America’s problems must lie within a different economic framework. I had hoped by the end of twenty-four months to see new policies closer to an Austrian economic philosophy emerge. I was wrong.
Though, even the Wall Street Journal recently featured an article on the re-emergence of the Austrian School of Economic philosophy, it would appear that President Obama’s administration still neither gets it, nor I am afraid ever will. Key defections by his leading economic advisors, talk of the need for QE II and a Stimulus II, and a political collapse in public confidence suggests a growing awareness that Keynesian policies are not working, as many predicted they wouldn’t. Obama’s exciting rhetoric of Hope and Change has left myself and the majority of recent polled Americans disillusioned and disappointed. What I see the administration failing to grasp is twofold:
I-America has a Structural problem, not a cyclical business cycle problem. Though the cyclical business cycle was greatly worsened by the financial crisis, I would argue that the structural problem facing the US is actually a contributor to what caused the financial crisis.
II- America has a Credit demand problem, not a Credit supply problem. It isn’t that the banks won’t lend, but rather that few can any longer afford or qualify (on any reasonably and historically sound basis) to borrow.
A STRUCTURAL PROBLEM
We are all painfully aware that the US has not produced sufficient exportable product to support its standard of living for many years. Manufacturing in the US has been in steady decline since the 1960’s and the excess spending during the Vietnam War. It has been 50 years since the US had a balanced budget (forget Clinton’s social security slight of hand). Over the last 10-15 years the US has seriously compounded this problem by accelerating the de-industrializaton of America without a strategy to replace salable export product. Corporate industrial strategies of outsourcing, downsizing, and off-shoring were never countered other than by an excess consumption splurge which fostered massive real estate and retail expansion distortions.
Simply said: A US Service Economy that is based on 70% GDP consumer consumption does not pay the bills!
For a brief period of time following the dotcom implosion, the US operated as a mercantile “Financial Economy” that turned out to have been nothing more than a historic illusion.
As the graphs below clearly show, since late 1999 with the surge in the adoption of the internet, unemployment in the US has spiked. Clerical, manufacturing and almost any job that could be further automated through networking advancements were replaced.
In my recent paper INNOVATION: What Made America Great is now Killing Her! , I described how the dotcom bubble ushered in a change in America that is still reverberating through the nation and around the globe. The Internet unleashed productivity opportunities of unprecedented proportions in addition to new business models, new ways of doing business and completely new and never before realized markets. Ten years ago there was no such position as a Web Master; having a home PC was primarily for word processing and creating spreadsheets; Apple made MACs and ordering on-line was a quaint experiment for risk takers.
In 1997 prior to the ‘go-go’ Dotcom era unfolding, America’s unemployment was less than half of what it is today at 4.7%. At that time the US added 3 Million net jobs which reflected the creation of 33.4 Million new positions while obsolescing or cutting 30.4 Million old positions. Job losses occurred in old vocations such as typists, secretaries, filing clerks, switchboard operators etc. Hired were new occupations such as C++ programmers, web masters, database managers, network analysts, etc.
As our research chart above however illustrates, the additions have fallen off precipitously while the job losses have stayed relatively flat. In 2009 job losses were 31M and only slightly larger than 1997, which would be expected with further internet application development. New job creation however was only 24.7M which is dramatically lower than the 33.4 in 1997.
Over 98% of all jobs created in America have traditionally been created by companies with less then 500 employees. Recent research by the Kaufman Foundation shows that in fact new start ups versus existing businesses dominated the creation of new positions.
America’s slowing ability to innovate which is reflected in published research papers, patents issued and numbers of college graduates with advanced math and science degrees has seriously fallen behind. I laid out the seriousness of this problem in my early 2010 paper: America – Innovate or Die!
It is more than a little disconcerting that after 13 Trillion in stimulus measures we see business spending on capital investment STILL shrinking in the US.
It can’t be any clearer, the US has a structural problem. The administration can not possibly fail to realize this. My sense is they just don’t know what to do about it.
A DEMAND PROBLEM
According to the Federal Reserve’s latest quarterly survey of banks’ lending practices recorded during July 2010, “for the first time since 2006, banks are making commercial and industrial loans more available to small firms, with about one-fifth of large domestic banks having eased lending standards. This offset a net tightening of standards by a small fraction of other banks." Also, for the past six months, banks have continued easing lending to large and mid-sized firms. What’s more, banks also reported that they stopped cutting existing lines of credit for commercial and industrial firms for the first time since the Fed added the question in its survey in January 2009. As for consumer loans, banks also reported easing standards for approving loans.
Credit is available, but demand remains flat.
Asked in the July survey how demand for commercial and industrial loans has changed over the past three months, 61% of banks responded "about the same," while 9% said "moderately weaker." While it was good news that 30% responded "moderately stronger," it’s not exactly a surge in demand. Even in a slowly recovering economy, the growing distaste for credit among our debt-weary public has hampered the way for new purchases and investments.
This isn’t all that is surprising. The latest economic indicators paint a very exhausted consumer: In the years leading up to the financial crisis, he bought too much house and too many cars. The consumer is in burn-out mode, more focused on either saving or paying down credit card debt than buying more appliances and gadgets.
The amount consumers owed on their credit cards during the three months ending in June dropped to its lowest levels in more than eight years, indicating that cardholders continue to pay off balances in the uncertain economy, according to TransUnion’s second quarter credit card statistics.
The average combined debt for bank-issued credit cards fell by more than 13% to $4,951 over the previous year. This represented the first three-month period where credit card debt fell below $5,000 since the three months ending in March 2002. Meanwhile, personal savings have risen to 6.4% of after-tax incomes, about three times higher than it was in 2007.
Perhaps what the Fed’s quarterly report is really saying is this:
"There’s a growing distaste for credit. The American consumer is the child who ate too much and spoiled his dinner. And even if you hand him his favorite meal on a silver platter, he’s just not that hungry.”
Another obvious but seldom highlighted factor affecting demand is shifting demographics. The Baby Boomer generation is no longer the consumption engine it has been to the US economy.
We have a generation that, as has been predicted for some time, is reducing its expenses but it may be even more dramatic than forecasted. With home housing prices no longer being the wealth generation vehicle they had expected it to be, stocks not delivering the returns they had been told to expect for the ‘long term’ investor and medical expenses climbing above their worst budgeted targets, the baby boomers are being forced to cut back even further than the expected demographics were warning about.
The demand for credit to finance new acquisitions is not the same priority it was only a few years ago. Harry Dent’s extensive demographic research lays this out in indisputable detail.
All Federal Reserve and Government actions are about increasing credit supply. None effectively address demand.
Expect it to get worse until the administration finally realizes that we have both a structural and demand problem facing America, not a cyclical business cycle and credit availability problem. I personally don’t believe for a minute that the Obama Administration haven’t come to realize something is wrong. The White House simply doesn’t know what to do about it. They are doing the only thing our Washington political machine knows what to do – throw money and credit at the problem, which is precisely what got us into this problem in the first place.
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Gordon T Long
Mr. Long is a former senior group executive with IBM & Motorola, a principal in a high tech public start-up and founder of a private venture capital fund. He is presently involved in private equity placements internationally along with proprietary trading involving the development & application of Chaos Theory and Mandelbrot Generator algorithms.
Gordon T Long is not a registered advisor and does not give investment advice. His comments are an expression of opinion only and should not be construed in any manner whatsoever as recommendations to buy or sell a stock, option, future, bond, commodity or any other financial instrument at any time. While he believes his statements to be true, they always depend on the reliability of his own credible sources. Of course, he recommends that you consult with a qualified investment advisor, one licensed by appropriate regulatory agencies in your legal jurisdiction, before making any investment decisions, and barring that, you are encouraged to confirm the facts on your own before making important investment commitments.
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