Recession over in France and Germany
August 13, 2009 8:18 AM   Subscribe

The economy is abjectly terrible, right? It's so bad that nowadays, a picture is only worth 200 words. On the other hand, the recession is over in Germany and France, and in the United States, the unemployment rate dropped just a smidgen last month.

To be fair, the recession wasn't as severe in France and Germany, and didn't start so early. Still, this seems a far cry from talk of a second depression.
posted by malapropist (39 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From the last link:
But the Labor Department said there was a discouraging reason for the auto industry's increase of 28,000 jobs -- "previous cuts had been so extensive that there were fewer workers to lay off during the seasonal shutdown."
"Gee, doctor, that annoying pain in my knee is much better ever since you amputated my leg!"
posted by rokusan at 8:25 AM on August 13, 2009

Whoa, that public data thing is awesome. Needs more than just this though.

(And flagged for editorializing.)
posted by DU at 8:25 AM on August 13, 2009

It should be noted that we would expect economic activity in the US to pick up now as the economy ramps up for the typical 4th quarter Christmas orgy. The real question is what happens in January as unemployment benefits and severance packages for people laid off earlier this year start to run out.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:37 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The unemployment rate can be a misleading indicator. How many people were dropped from the labor force? What about underemployment, levels of part-time employment, etc.? The journalistic obsession with unemployment rates is baffling.
posted by raysmj at 8:40 AM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

the unemployment rate dropped just a smidgen last month.

According to this piece:

"It ticked down by 0.1 percent last month not because more people found jobs, but because 450,000 people withdrew from the labor market."

And as for a more comprehensive look at the employment scene,

"A truer picture of the employment crisis emerges when you combine the number of people who are officially counted as jobless with those who are working part time because they can’t find full-time work and those in the so-called labor market reserve — people who are not actively looking for work (because they have become discouraged, for example) but would take a job if one became available."

Known as underemployment, has actually climbed to 19%, or 30 million people. So yeah, I don't really buy the idea that we're out of the sink hole nearly yet.
posted by tybeet at 8:41 AM on August 13, 2009

Foreclosure activity in July went up.
posted by alteredcarbon at 8:42 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the big thing is that the equities market leveled out. The Dow's recovered to nine thousand and change, and is trending up at a healthy (not overheated) rate, and banks seem to have largely stabilized. That should lead to investment and thence growth.

Overall, I've been pretty pleased with the results of the recovery measures of this administration. "Cash-for-clunkers" was a master stroke, and for the price of two B2 Stealth Bombers, it was dirt cheap for the economic benefits it brought, never mind the ecological ones. (Domestic manufacturers saw the most benefit, and the Ford Focus was the most purchased vehicle under the program.)

What I like the best is that they've been brutally honest with the public in terms of their objectives and progress - I'd much rather be told that the recession and unemployment may worsen before it improves - than to have sunshine and rainbows blown up my butt and have no idea how bad things actually are.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:56 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

"The economy is so bad, George W. Bush appeared in a flight suit and declared economic recovery was complete. "

Actually made me laugh while scrolling down. I wonder if living on as a punchline will be his biggest legacy in 50 years.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 9:01 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

Don't be a sucker. Nassim Taleb and Nouriel Roubini on the current economy. August seasonality usually shows a positive move in sentiment, look at 2007 and 2008.

Also, China is in the process of killing off their gravy train. Andy Xie (former MS analyst) is speculating that their national holiday (Oct 1) is a key date to watch.
posted by amuseDetachment at 9:02 AM on August 13, 2009

I wonder if living on as a punchline will be (Bush's) biggest legacy in 50 years.

We can only hope.
posted by longsleeves at 9:08 AM on August 13, 2009

Here is a very well-written thorough discussion of the unemployment numbers and what they mean, sans any mention of "Christmas orgies" which begin in August.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:25 AM on August 13, 2009

"Cash-for-clunkers" was a master stroke

Not really, they got to watch Germany, Italy, France, and other European countries demonstrate that it works first. Too bad America can't do the same for health care.
posted by cmonkey at 9:27 AM on August 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

Socialism wins.

Except for toilet paper.
posted by racingjs at 9:41 AM on August 13, 2009

The journalistic obsession with unemployment rates is baffling.

They're just reporting what they're told to report. Nothing very novel, there.
posted by rokusan at 9:43 AM on August 13, 2009

Yeah, Wal-Mart's earnings were up this quarter as well, so things must be great, right? Well, except that their actual sales figures are down. So, how did they make money but sell less stuff?

Hint: rhymes with fun employment.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:47 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The economy's so bad, Exxon-Mobil laid off 25 Congressmen.

OK, that's pretty funny.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:49 AM on August 13, 2009 [4 favorites]

This guy doesn't think it is over at all. And, what about those inflated P/E ratios, anyways?
posted by sporb at 10:15 AM on August 13, 2009

*oils self from head to toe, stands naked under mistletoe*
well, I'm ready for the christmas orgy.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2009

Well, there is the economy and then there is the stock market. Broad themes connect the two, and I'll let you in on a little of my thinking.

Lots of chatter about the recession being over, but I'm very cautious myself about calling an end to the recession right just yet, and I'm a self-described optimist.

These are such unusual times; we've got a mostly unnoticed war in the US Government bond market at present; I haven't seen much mention of this in the mainstream press. But even as The Fed is actively buying

At the same time the the US Treasury is pushing a record $75bn in debt sales into the market (not to be confused with prior unexpectedly large sales of US debt), we're seeing yields starting to creep back up, approaching levels last seen in early June, with the yield on the hot run10-year note trading to yield about 3.68% .

While on Monday it was yielding 3.84%, lots of money was lined up betting it would push 4% because of Wednesday's $23bn auction.

This alone tells me the The Fed , et al are still far more active in the markets that we might know at present. I'm waiting for their tell all, 'cause I think they've got a lot of telling to do.

Another interesting point is while The Chinese are still buying they are quietly moving to the short end of the yield curve. This does indeed interest me, seems like they are fragmenting their US Treasury portfolio and positioning themselves to where they can liquidate portions rapidly, with minimal downside risk.

I do wonder if this has anything to do fears of a second dip in Chinese GDP?.

But then another idea I had was the short end action was nothing more than a deal struck with the Chinese, to help keep US interest rates low. Regardless of the reason (we'll never really know for sure), this is something that bears watching, if for no other reason that it presents itself as an artificially strong force on the short end.

Side effect of the Chinese actions: we're gonna see that yield curve steepen, which will be good for banking profits but I'm not sure whom else.

A lot of the euphoria seems to have originated in July's ISM numbers, which were indeed very positive. We saw the overall ISM index hit 48.9%, with 50% being the metric that indicates the US economy is growing. July's was the strongest performance since September 2008, and it blew past the consensus forecast of 46.2%.

In case anyone is interested
I've grabbed the data underlying aggregate PMI numbers here; anything in yellow is expanding and the blue, well the blue is something to watch and its a signal of rising prices, in other words inflation (managers are reporting less resistance to increased prices, hence the increase to 55 in the metric).

Another interesting item is The VIX, which measures the implied volatility of a strip of S&P 500 index options. We're seeing the VIX trading at 25.20, which indicates a 30 day forward looking estimate of near term market volatility of roughly 7.27% (i.e., 25.20 / sqrt(12) = one month vola est), and we are surely getting close to September, which is on the whole usually a very exciting month. Lots of pros are still on holiday, this is a thinly traded market and when the desks are fully staffed in September is when proprietary trading (whats left of it) will really kick off. Buckle your seat belts.

Sure, the S&P 500 has cleared 1,000 and earnings were pretty good across the board, but companies have shed so many jobs, slashed so much cost, stellar performance like we've seen is almost to be expected. Generally this is factored in the price (I'm not the only one to notice this), but so many folks were running scared for so long this seems to have fallen by the wayside.

Just a few of my thoughts; I'm on the fence as to wether or not we're out. And if we are we won't be seeing the go-go growth again; structured finance is all but dead, folks have seriously cut back on more esoteric forms of financing as they didn't want to be holding paper when the regulators cracked down and started rendering structures illegal.

I'd add to Pastabagel's comments upthread that there is still a lot of government money sloshing about, driving things forward. Once the spending stops will the economy continue on it's own?

Talk of a second stimulus has plenty of folks spooked, even as the US Dollar is already testing October 2008 lows.

Of course there are two sides to every trade, and the US Dollar weakness has gotten the Technical Analysis guys all excited, as they smell blood.

I'm still buying gold & silver physical when I can get it here in London. My dealer says last years shortages have eased, but demand is still the strongest he's seen in 20+ years.

Fascinating times.
posted by Mutant at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2009 [8 favorites]

I find the usage of the term 'unemployment rate' very confusing. I understand the term 'rate' to measure something with units of time (e.g. widgets per hour) but as I understand it, the above linked 'unemployment rate' is a measure of the stock of unemployed people.

When it was announced recently that the unemployment rate dropped last month, I took that to mean there was a slower flow of people becoming unemployed. And that flow dropped slightly last month but was still huge (247 000 people/month).
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 10:31 AM on August 13, 2009

Admittedly I haven't been following the Cash4Clunkers program in the states and the UK too closely, and while it has seemingly saved the auto industry, and perhaps pulled the economy out of the nosedive it was in; Isn't this the exact kind of shit that got us in this jam in the first place? People spending money on things they can't afford and don't really need? Isn't this just going to exacerbate the current problems when the inevitable auto repossessions start taking place? Hmmm, my crystal ball says that in 24 months we're going to see a glut of repo'ed cars screwing up everything and bad car loans responsible for the tightening of credit to worthy sources.

I mean the very people that this program appeals to, namely those who'd gladly take $4500 for their car are the least able to afford a new one, or they'd already be driving them.
posted by Keith Talent at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2009

In reading Mutant's comment, it occurs to me where he likes to be optimistic, I prefer to be pessimistic. I think this is partly to do with him being in the UK, and me being in the US and seeing some very unsettling, albeit anecdotal facts on the ground that aren't really in the data (at least not the data I can find).

My feeling is this - we are going to have inflation. High inflation. To me, it is inevitable given the amount of money flooding into the system, but I don't hear the sentiment echoed anywhere, so I have to wonder where I'm going wrong. I think that people have taken comfort that the jump in the savings rate to some significant degree offsets this, which is true. But I think that the moment the economy improves, what is in savings now will come out in consumer spending.

Two forces: (1) I believe people who started saving much more last fall but were laid off this spring are going to start tapping savings in December and January. (2) Bad american habits - americans are trained consumers, and their consumption habits will revert to the mean set over the last 10 years with frightening speed, my guess is inside of a quarter.

It is always harder to inject liquidity than to extract it, and I think that once the dollars flood out of savings, we will have some vicious inflation. How can we not? Is there another bubble forming some where to sop them up? Web 3.0? Wind? Solar? Corn? Tulips?

The problem with the inflation, even if it's only 6%, is that we will not have nearly the economic growth necessary to justify it. Just because the recession is over doesn't mean 5% growth. It may very well mean 0.25% growth. That isn't enough.

On top of that the call upon the government to provide additional services (i.e. spending) means continued high borrowing. How this results in anything but a falling dollar I cannot understand.

Either we pay for the massive spending we have had and will have to have more of with high inflation, or we let the economy naturally contract, which means unemployment over 10%, and 70's-style problems. Remember that the solution to the economy of the 1970's was massive tax cuts AND massive government spending on defense. If you realize that the defense industry is to a great extent a manufacturing industry, that meant a lot of jobs across all wage levels.

The problem now is that taxes are already low (you can't really cut them meaningfully further) and defense and infrastructure spending is already incredibly high - you can't raise it meaningfully higher.

The real crisis now is not the mortgage/CDS shenanigans, it's the lack of discipline in the federal budget and the lack of discipline in the consumer that have developed over a generation. Everyone is looking for a painless way to solve these remaining problems, despite the fact that we couldn't solve the relatively short term problems of 2005-2008 without incredible disruption. I just don't get the optimism - there's no free lunch, and we've been dining out of foreign money for decades.

So, what to do? I'd welcome people to tell me where I'm goin g wrong here
posted by Pastabagel at 11:09 AM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you want to read opinions directly opposite to those of "recession is over" optimists, go here:

(warning, some colorful language and metaphors within)
posted by de void at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2009

Pastabagel -- "I think this is partly to do with him being in the UK, and me being in the US and seeing some very unsettling, albeit anecdotal facts on the ground that aren't really in the data (at least not the data I can find)."

Now I'm curious, what might these facts be? If they are truly pervasive across the entire US economy, then they more than likely are in some data, some where.

While my position isn't really optimistic on the subject of the economy, before I get too deep in I'll just reiterate something I mention on MeFi a lot - I'm not a "big picture" type of economist. Plenty of folks here as well as across the broader internet play that role, no what I do best is see opps. Can't change the big picture (although one has ideas), but I do see ways to capitalise on what I view as inevitable

So I do think we agree on this point: inflation is definitely in the system and coming. I've been cautioning about that for some time now, but also coupled with below trend growth and above trend unemployment; stagflation, in other words.

Yeh, lots of parallels between now and the 70's, but the history of finance tells us there is never a precise replay of events (oh if it were so easy ....) but look back far enough and the broad themes are always the same.

But will the inflation go hyper? The IMF has some guidelines about what must happen for hyperinflation to 1) emerge, 2) take hold, and 3) take off.

While inflation may be high, uncomfortably high, going hyper is something completely different. Cagan (1956) defines hyperinflation as "inflation rates exceeding 50% per month".

Well, during in the last battle we had with inflation the US government showed that given a choise between sacraficing savers or preserving the US Dollar, they will protect the greenback, every time.

Little known fact: outbreaks of hyperinflation are far more common than Zimbabwe or Weimar; in fact many times I test folks regarding their knowledge of this subject, and if they can only point to those two cases they fail. No serious expertise there.

We've had cases of hyperinflation right in Europe, a nasty episode started in 1993, in Soviet Georgia where inflation peaked at some 220% PER MONTH in September 1994.

Wang (1999) from the IMF published a very good summary of the episode. Interesting reading, as it details precisely what the Georgian government did to bring hyper inflation under control.

But to opps in the market - as I mentioned, I'm still buying gold and silver, physical here in London when I can get it. As I mentioned, my dealer says the panic of last year - shortages in both metals - has mitigated somewhat, but demand is still high.

The only position I'll take is one way or another, the US Dollar is gonna continue to weaken. Engineered or not, they've pushed a lot of money into the system and if talk of a second stimulus comes to fruition there are lots opportunities to be had.
posted by Mutant at 12:42 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can pretty much reliably take the unemployment rate numbers and double them to get closer to the truth. The way they measure unemployment has changed over the years, always to eliminate unemployed people from the measure.

IMO, as long as the fundamental problems have not been resolved, we will continue this cycle. And it seems to be getting to be a much shorter cycle.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2009

The only position I'll take is one way or another, the US Dollar is gonna continue to weaken.

Good. A weak dollar will be good for exports, and create pressure to retool and revitalize the US manufacturing sector again.
posted by saulgoodman at 12:49 PM on August 13, 2009

So I am in an enviable position: I think that despite mismanaging my money by trusting a financial advisor, I remained conservative enough on the whole to not be bankrupt. In fact, we seem to have come out ahead, in that even with another 30% correction, our home remains a net asset.

Anyhoo, one of my thoughts is that we should be on a spending spree. Not only for the renovation materials, which don't seem to be getting any cheaper, so sooner is better than later, but also for "stuff." I don't know how all y'all live, but I seem to have more power tools than living room furniture.

F'rinstance, we have no TV. Don't have much need for one. Got a real nice jointer planer, though. And a planer thicknesser, too.

But it would be nice for that rare time we sit down to watch a movie. TV instead of laptop screen. What a concept! And the same can be said for most everything else most normal people have. Like living room furniture. A nice stereo. A games room. A home theatre. A boat. Toys. We lack all of that shit.

At some point here it will come to the point where prices are so low that it would be stupid of me to not take advantage of them. Hell, in the end I could sell them with the house or use them for making it a furnished rental unit. End up making money on them, I would.

So the $64000 dollar is when is it time to start buying high-quality, high-end goods at ridiculously low prices? FFFish needs a new pair of shoes.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:39 PM on August 13, 2009

That tears it. I'm move to this "France and Germany" place.
posted by chairface at 1:50 PM on August 13, 2009

A weak dollar will be good for exports, and create pressure to retool and revitalize the US manufacturing sector again.

What is this manufacturing sector you speak of?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

The world's 2nd largest (Bureau of Labor Statistics; PDF), Civil_Disobedient... that chart takes all 15 EU nations as a whole at #1. 20% of the entire planet's manufacturing takes place in the US, though, not bad.

Oh yeah, and we don't export anything either.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:14 PM on August 13, 2009 [2 favorites]

What is this manufacturing sector you speak of?

Weapons ... what else?
posted by Twang at 11:09 PM on August 13, 2009

Yeah. Historically, the tax on the top bracket could, theoretically, go to 90%... practically somewhere south of that, but still really high (compared to current standards). This means that the buck is safe from hyper-inflation, as we could tax our way out of any monetary problems if need be.

Yes, I said all this just to watch ultra-cons choke and drown on their own spittle, but nevertheless, it's true, and the people buying and selling forex and treasuries know it's true. Deflation, you can't tax-and-spend your way out of, tho, and I'm vastly more concerned about mild deflation over hyperinflation for the same reason I'm more worried about bull-sharks than the Loch Ness Monster when in the jacuzzi - I really shouldn't be afraid of either, as both threats are preposterous, but the bull shark is just a bit less preposterous than Nessie.
posted by Slap*Happy at 11:22 PM on August 13, 2009

The world's 2nd largest (Bureau of Labor Statistics; PDF), Civil_Disobedient

Ha ha ha ha ha... oh my sides! I love how China isn't even on the list!

So, Just where is Waldo on that list, anyway?

You know, putting decals on pre-manufactured-overseas-then-shipped-in-nearly-complete-form goods and calling it "Manufactured in America" is extremely disingenuous.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:40 AM on August 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Keith Talent: "Admittedly I haven't been following the Cash4Clunkers program…while it has seemingly saved the auto industry, and perhaps pulled the economy out of the nosedive it was in"

You can make arguments for and against the Clunkers program, but that's way overstating the case for it. It may have stimulated some spending, but it certainly didn't "save the auto industry." Maybe—maybe!—it saved a few dealerships who were looking at going under because of loans they had on stagnant inventory, but certainly not the industry as a whole.

It's a wolf in sheep's clothing in terms of its environmental impact, and frankly I've been impressed that so many environmentalists seem to have been snowed by it.

Depending on how you run the numbers, the top-selling vehicle through C4C is either the Ford Escape SUV, or the Toyota Corolla. Furthermore, the DOT has been doing some fairly significant number-massaging to avoid making it obvious just how many light trucks are being purchased through the program.

It won't be possible to really tell until the end of the year, but there have also been suggestions that the program may not significantly impact overall sales at all, and that it won't amount to anything but taxpayer-funded "channel stuffing"—paying people to replace vehicles now that they would have replaced in the very near future anyway. (Similar to forcing product on your customers in the final weeks of a quarter in order to make that quarter's numbers look good, at the expense of the next Q, since those customers aren't going to go out and buy again anytime soon.)

Whether or not the program will have been worth it is something that will only be visible in retrospect, but I would recommend being highly suspicious of any claims that it saved the auto industry, or preserved any large number of jobs, or really any jobs at all outside dealership positions. It's a PR stunt more than anything else.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:57 AM on August 14, 2009

Anecdata, I've been doing a lot of traveling this summer, mostly to places I'm pretty familar with. I've never seen this many for sale/for rent/a louer/forclosed/sized/ferme pour "renovation" signs ever. It's like a forest of sales, some neighborhoods have 3 on every block. An entire commercial strip closed in 3 months and hasn't been replaced with anything yet. I have no idea what it means, but my none-stupid reaction a year ago was "Wow, a lot of places are going out of business and not a whole lot is opening up." still holds and if anything it's gotten worse.
posted by The Whelk at 7:51 AM on August 14, 2009

I love how China isn't even on the list!

Hey, you're right... neither is India, which has a significant share of manufacturing these days as well. Not sure what the hell the Bureau of Labor Statistics is doing then, feel free to ignore that PDF.

Nevertheless, the article you cite (and here's another one from just a couple of weeks ago on the same subject) maintains that the US is the world's largest manufacturing nation, albeit with China gaining significant ground.

As for the argument that our "manufacturing" sector is nothing but slapping MADE IN USA stickers on products produced elsewhere, I have no idea; is that something that actually happens? It sounds like a 'FW: Fwd: Re: Fw: CHECK THIS OUT' email kind of thing. Do we actually have any data on that practice? I would like to see it, frankly, because now that you mention it, I do wonder how much of the manufacturing sector's supposed activity is no better than falsification.

How is the origin of a product determined? What does this data look like before the BLS puts it into a bar graph that doesn't even include the US's largest competitor for manufacturing?
posted by synaesthetichaze at 2:28 PM on August 14, 2009

Synaesthetichaze: Just to give you a sense for how much chicanery potentially goes into labeling products as "Manufactured in the US" when they really aren't, consider the Mariana island scandal in recent US history (Tom DeLay and Jack Abrahamoff were crucial players): Basically, the scam involved US products being manufactured in sweatshops in the US territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, which aren't bound by US labor or occupational health and safety laws, only to be slapped with "Made in the US" labels and classified as such for accounting purposes.

But of course, once it came to light, that situation was remedied--thanks to a bill signed in 2007, the workers there are on track to meet US minimum wage requirements by 2015. Also, China basically had a closed-doors deal with the US to bring large numbers of their garment workers to the Marianas to get around World Trade Organization caps on imports to the US, so China could effectively manufacture US goods labeled as Made in the USA. But the WTO caps were lifted in 2005 so the situation's changed.

Still, who knows what kinds of deals like that are still ongoing? Not to mention protects whose components are manufactured abroad and then assembled here to be labeled Made in the US.

Here's a little more of a taste for what the Marianas deal was all about:
"...the abusive sweatshop conditions endured by workers, overwhelmingly immigrants, in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, of which Saipan is the capital.

Because they were produced in a territory of the United States, garments traveled tariff-free and quota-free to the profitable U.S. market and were entitled to display the coveted "Made in the USA" label.

Among the manufacturers that had profited from the un-free labor market on the island were Tommy Hilfiger USA, Gap, Calvin Klein and Liz Claiborne.

Moved by the sworn testimony of U.S. officials and human-rights advocates that the 91 percent of the workforce who were immigrants -- from China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh -- were being paid barely half the U.S. minimum hourly wage and were forced to live behind barbed wire in squalid shacks minus plumbing, work 12 hours a day, often seven days a week, without any of the legal protections U.S. workers are guaranteed, Murkowski wrote a bill to extend the protection of U.S. labor and minimum-wage laws to the workers in the U.S. territory of the Northern Marianas."

posted by saulgoodman at 8:21 AM on August 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ugh, that's depressing. Thanks for the info; metafilter edifies me on the dark details of the modern world economy yet again.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 10:47 AM on August 16, 2009

Late to the party, but Mutant, why physical precious metals? Most buyers in this market are hedging against a systemic collapse where government intervention/failures make holding exchange traded instruments worthless.
I can understand the sentiment to own gold from an inflation perspective, but it would surprise me if you thought there could be a complete market failure.
Or is holding physical an attempt to gain on the spread between pysical and instruments, which would, I suppose, deliver a little leverage. Seems a small reward for the real world security risks of holding such an investment if you believe the market intitutions are solid enough.
posted by bystander at 2:54 AM on August 17, 2009

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