With the stock-market rally charging into a fifth week, analysts and commentators who were warning about DOW 5000 a month ago are now becoming jubilant. We’re finally there! The worst recession since World War II is over! It’s time to buy again!
Some of the economic data in the past couple of weeks has indeed been not-quite-as-horrible-as-feared, and the rate at which things are getting worse has eased. But that doesn’t mean we’re coiling up for a rip roaring recovery.
Roger Altman of Evercore (former deputy Treasury Secretary) explains in the FT:
The rare nature of this recession precludes a cyclically normal US recovery. Instead, we are consigned to a slow, painful climb-out, as are nations such as Japan and Mexico that depend on US demand. The implications for US policy include a likely second round of stimulus, much more federal capital for the banking system and stunning budget deficits that will slow key initiatives for President Barack Obama, such as healthcare and energy reform.
What is unusual is that this is a balance-sheet driven recession, centred on the damaged financial condition of both households and banks. These weaknesses mandate sub-normal levels of consumer spending and overall lending for about three years…
Consumer spending…has approximated 70 per cent of US gross domestic product for the past decade and dominates our economy. But household balance sheets will not be rebuilt soon. Home values will keep falling through mid-2010 and there is no precedent for equity markets, still down 45 per cent from their peak, to make those losses up in just two years. It is illogical, therefore, to expect a full snap-back in the consumer sector in 2010 or 2011. This alone mandates a drawn-out, weak recovery.
The second key sector is the financial one. According to the International Monetary Fund, western financial institutions, mostly in the US, have realised $1,000bn of losses on US-originated assets since the crisis began. The IMF has estimated that unrealised losses may amount to another $1,000bn. With residential and commercial real estate steadily declining, this is possible. This is why the banking sector cannot make new loans. These losses are eating into banks’ capital and shrinking their capacity to add assets. Funds from the Troubled Asset Relief Program are only replacing lost capital, not increasing it. When might they end? With key categories of toxic assets still losing value, the answer is: not soon. The scale of lending needed to support a normal cyclical recovery will not materialise.
A third constraint on recovery may involve the federal balance sheet. The fiscal and monetary engines are currently on full throttle. But, within two years, concerns over budget deficits and inflation may revive, compelling the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates and Congress to adopt deficit reduction steps. These actions, contractionary by definition, could occur before a full recovery has asserted itself. On that basis, the federal balance sheet would also limit a full recovery. Read the whole thing >
How long do we have to wait? Most likely, years.