Recession of 2008
The Recession of 2008 (also called the Recession of the late 2000's or the Great Recession) is a major worldwide economic downturn that began in 2008 and continued into 2010. It was caused by the Financial Crisis of 2008; it is by far the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It appears the worldwide recession hit bottom around September 2009; however there are few signs that the American or world economies have started to move upward again. Greece, Portugal and Ireland remain in serious trouble, while China and Brazil have rebounded and are growing rapidly. Concerning the United States economy, proponents of free market capitalism declare that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke should not have bailed out failing firms and instead should have allowed free market capitalism to quickly recover as it did in the depression of 1920 without government intervention (free market capitalists assert that government intervention merely drags out recessions and depressions). A 2005 study found that government corporate bailouts are often done for mere political considerations and the economic resources allocated exhibit significantly worse economic performance than resources allocated using purely business considerations.
Likewise in the U.S. the economy has stabilized but has not shown signs of recovery, apart from the stock market going up. Serious weaknesses continue in housing, commercial real estate, banking, automobiles, and retail trade. Unemployment continues to worsen, reaching 10.2% in October, 2009 and slipping to 10.0% in November, with conditions especially poor in California, Michigan and South Carolina.
The crisis is worldwide, with major impact in Britain, Europe (that is the "European Union" or EU), Russia, Japan, the oil countries of the Middle East, and the Third World. The economy of the EU (Europe) will shrink by 4% in 2009, with unemployment reaching 10%. Ireland, Iceland and parts of Eastern Europe are hardest hit. Britain was hit hard with its major banks in deep trouble. Recovery in Britain has been slow; its GDP fell 5.2% from 3Q 2008 to 3Q 2009.
Global trade declined sharply--by 13% from August 20008 to August 2009, hurting exporters such as Germany and Japan. China has avoided most of the troubles; it continues to grow at a phenomenal rate (8.9% annual rate in 2008-9).
Global governments spent an astonishing $17 trillion to support the world economy in the form of bailouts, guarantees, and equity market purchases. That $17 trillion represents one quarter of global GDP, but only a fraction of that sum will actually be paid out. (How much will not be known afor a few years.) Global investment declined by 15% , and global GDP by shrank by nearly $4 trillion, or an amazing 6%. Global industrial production in the advanced economies dropped a 15%, causing unemployment to soar around the world, nearly doubling in the United States alone.
The recession began in January 2008 in the financial sector as major banks in the U.S. and Europe got into serious trouble by investing in bad mortgages. The crisis spread globally due to the fact that many banks and other business worldwide had invested in these securitized debts. Trouble spread to the automobile industry, where General Motors and Chrysler went bankrupt in spring 2009, due to a decrease in US consumer demand. They remained solvent by an emergency loan proposed by President George W. Bush over the objections of Congressional Republicans. Later a bailout involving a taxpayer buy out and bankruptcy reorganization was authorized by President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats.
Leftists have incorrectly attributed the cause of the recession to Bush Administration policies, calling it the "Bush Recession." However, many people recognize that it is Obama's failed policies and inaction that extended the recession and have prevented a full recovery. Indeed, a Google search of "Obama Recession" returns 273,000 hits, whereas the phrase "Bush Recession" returns only 126,000 hits as of August 14, 2011.
In the U.S. GDP fell in the fourth quarter of 2008 (October-November-December), by 6.2% annual rate, with declines heaviest in business investment, exports, finance, autos, housing, construction, and retail sales. The steep decline continued; GDP in the first quarter of 2009 (January-February-March) fell at the annualized rate of 6.1%, much worse than expected. American business slashed capital investment at an annual rate of -38%. Investment in software and computer equipment declined by an annualized 33.8%, and investment in new buildings was down 44.2%. On the slightly optimistic side, financial markets that spiralled out of control late last year are stabilizing, and declines in retail sales and orders by manufacturers are no longer posting record declines.
The stock market fell by 50% in 2008, wiping out trillions of dollars in assets. More trillions were lost as housing prices fell by 20%. Adding together the declines in housing and the stock market, the net worth of American households declined from $63.7 trillion in January 2008 to $51.5 trillion in January 2009, a decline of $11.2 trillion or 18%. That is, Americans owned $11 trillion less wealth, and adjusted by buying less and investing less. Meanwhile mortgages and credit-card debt together reached $13 trillion, or 123% of after-tax income, a huge jump since 1995, when it was 83% of income.
Bankruptcies among small businesses soared from 206 a day in Dec. 2007 to 357 a day in March 2009. In April, 2009, came the largest real estate bankruptcy in history, as General Growth, which owns and manages more than 200 malls, proved unable to handle its crushing $27 billion debt load. The debt was created by heavy borrowing in optimistic days to build new new malls.
Wealth levels plunged worldwide. Stock markets in other major countries fell even faster than the U.S. Most companies worldwide reported reduced sales and sharply reduced profits, as banks refused to lend and consumers refused to spend, fearing the worst.
A series of emergency measures enacted by the Federal Reserve (on its own authority) and Congress after heavy prodding by presidents Bush and Obama resulted in trillions of dollars in loans, banking bailouts and guarantees, a half-trillion new stimulus spending and a third of a trillion in tax cuts, but by mid-March 2009 the outlook remained bleak as the economy continued downward. Therefore the Federal Reserve announced yet another trillion dollar plan on March 18, this one to buy $300 billion in Treasury bonds, and $750 billion in mortgage-backed securities. The idea was to keep mortgage rates low in the hope people will start buying houses again, but the problem is that the prices are falling, so that if a person buys a $500,000 house today it will be worth $400,000 in a year, despite the Fed's intervention.
In the first quarter of 2009 (January 1 to March 30), GDP fell sharply in major countries compared to the fourth quarter of 2008. In the US GDP was down 6.3%.
Major export countries have seen their markets shrink. Exports from Japan were down 41% (quarter one 2009 versus 2008), Germany 32%, China 20% and U.S. 22%.
Major countries began experimenting with Keynesian stimulus packages, including the US ($787 billion), Europe (EU, $634 billion), China ($586 billion), and Japan ($486 billion), but so far no positive results have been reported. Central banks (such as the Federal Reserve in the U.S.) cut interest rates to nearly zero, but few businesses are borrowing money to expand employment or meet current operating expenses.
Oil, metal and grain (rice, wheat, corn) prices, after hitting record levels in the summer of 2008, have plunged. Oil went from $145 a barrel to $42.
Retail sales in the U.S. and worldwide are in a major slump, with the slowest Christmas shopping season in decades. American manufacturing contracted in November 2008 at the steepest rate in 26 years. The U.S. lost some 2.6 million jobs in 2008, the worst record since the end of World War II, Factory indexes in China, Britain, Europe, and Russia all fell to record lows.
In January 2009 the downturn worsened, as major companies and small firms announced round after round of layoffs and postponement of expansion plans. The financial sector worsened sharply in January, indicating the the huge financial bailouts of 2008 were not enough. The steep slide continued as unsold goods piled up. The GDP (gross domestic product) shrank at a -6.2% annual rate in the fourth quarter (last three months) of 2008, the sharpest contraction in 26 years.
Meanwhile, at the urging of the Obama Administration, Congress passed a $789 billion stimulus package, combining new spending and tax cuts, in the hopes of turning the economy around by mid-2009. Republicans were nearly unanimous against the proposal, as their smaller package was voted down. Canada, although not as hard hit as the U.S., is preparing its own stimulus package.
- see also Economic stimulus package
Economists from all political viewpoints predict the slide in GDP is likely to continue at an alarming pace well into summer 2009 as consumers continue to curtail spending and businesses reduce their capital investments and cut their payrolls.
Income and Wealth
Wealth holding took a heavy blow. Incomes were down too, but not as dramatically.
In terms of a monetary explanation, there is far more money around, thanks to the stimulus programs of the Federal Reserve, Treasury, and Congress. However the velocity is down to the lowest rate since 1991. That is, people and business are saving and not spending. Banks are not lending. The nation’s banks in March 2009 had reserves of $679 billion, up from only $45 billion in August 2008. Individuals are keeping their cash in the banks, or paying off credit cards and debts, and not buying new merchandise. The goal of federal stimulus spending is to get consumer spending going, to create jobs and keep businesses from slowing down. If people do start spending again all the extra money will cause inflation, but in that case the Federal Reserve plans to reduce the money supply and, hopefully, restore normalcy and prosperity.
The longest economic slumps since 1945 were the 16-month downturns that ended in March 1975 and November 1982. The Great Depression lasted 43 months, from August 1929 to March 1933.
"This may be referred to as the Great Recession," because of its length, said Norbert Ore, chairman of the Institute for Supply Management’s factory survey. "It looked like we were headed for a shallow recession earlier in the year because of higher energy prices. With the meltdown in the financial sector, it has become something more serious."
The construction of new housing and commercial buildings has fallen off; many commercial buildings and shopping centers have high vacancy rates and may be hard pressed to pay their debts. Housing prices continue low--falling from an average of $255,000 to $180,000, as millions of empty houses are a drag on the market. Indeed much of the housing activity in 2009 involved sales of foreclosed properties at distress prices.
The automobile industry is in desperate crisis, with General Motors and Chrysler, and numerous parts suppliers, on the verge of bankruptcy. Ford is in better shape as are the "transplants" like Toyota and Honda that have factories in the U.S. If GM shuts down, however, many parts suppliers will also shut, forcing the end of most US auto production. Autos will still be imported, though at much higher prices. GM and Chrysler were given $17 billion TARP funds in December on condition they present a turnaround plan by Feb. 17, 2009. In its plan GM will ask for access to an additional $16.6 billion in federal aid; otherwise will run out of money by March 2009. GM also said it would close 14 U.S. plants, and cut 47,000 global hourly, salaried jobs. Bankruptcy, GM claimed, could cost the federal government the loss of tax revenue and the loss of 1.3 million jobs across the US, as plants and dealers close down operation.
In March 2009 GM reported that its auditors have raised substantial doubts about its ability to continue as a going concern, citing recurring losses from operations, stockholders' deficit and an inability to generate enough cash to meet its obligations. GM has received $13.4 billion in federal loans, and the company is seeking a total of $30 billion from the government. During the past three years it has run up $82 billion in losses, including $30.9 billion in 2008. Bankruptcy took place June 1, 2009.
After reaching a low of 4.1% in October, 2006, the U.S. unemployment rate has been trending upward, reaching 9.4% in May 2009. Analysts from the National Bureau of Economic research say that the current nation-wide recession began over a year ago; the economy peaked in December, 2007. This recession is expected to continue into 2010. Unemployment reached 6.5% in November 2008. Unemployment has already reached 10% and higher in half the country.
The crisis is worse in many other countries, which means they are dragging down the US economy and cannot be expected to be the engine to restore prosperity. Japan’s economy, the world’s second largest after the U.S., is deteriorating rapidly because of shrinking exports and weak domestic spending. Japan's GDP shrank at an annual rate of 12.7% in the fourth quarter of 2008, and the downward plunge shows no sign of reversal. Japan's exports to the U.S. and other areas are down sharply, causing massive layoffs at companies like Nissan, Toyota, Panasonic and Sony. Capital spending on tools and factories has fallen as companies halted production lines and cut investment. Consumer spending has stalled as Japanese households reduced spending amid the large-scale layoffs. The government has promised a huge bailout package on the order of 50 trillion yen ($545 billion), but has been unable to get it passed in parliament.
The economies in Europe and Russia are headed down, as are most third world countries. Eastern Europe is very hard hit, as is Ireland and Iceland. Economic growth in China continues at a much lower pace than usual, throwing tens of millions out of work there. The oil producing nations have seen their revenues plunge with the decline of oil prices.
The Obama Administration has been basing its domestic policies on the assumption that the stimulus package passed in February, 2009, will turn around the economy. The stimulus money has been spent slowly and little impact is visible by October. The Treasury assumes that the tax revenue will be there to fund permanent new spending program in areas such as health care and greening the economy. It assumes that the rich will recover enough of their investments to pay new taxes--right now tax collections are falling sharply as investments turn sour. The deficit for fiscal 2009 (which began Oct. 1 2008 and ended Sept. 20, 2009, covering both Bush and Obama terms) is an astonishing $1.4 trillion, or 10% of GDP.
Obama's policies are delaying and retarding the inevitable economic recovery, keeping unemployment high even though the recession Obama inherited was similar to others in the past that gave way to rapid recoveries.
The vast majority of the world's economists and economic forecasters—whether liberal or conservative—were caught unaware by the housing bubble and the banking crisis. Nearly all misjudged the depth of the economic downturn; they were baffled by the inability of orthodox monetary policy administered by the Federal Reserve to prevent such a steep downturn. They could not agree on what, if anything, the government should do to halt it and return to recovery. By 2010, most economists were in general agreement with the Obama administration's Keynesian strategy. However, some say the government is not doing enough and is too cozy with the bankers, while others say that it is doing too much and warn about dangerous long-term consequences. There is no professional consensus on the details of what should be done to end the downturn, speed recovery, or prevent a recurrence.
- 3Q is the third quarter, or the months of July, August and September.
- David Smick, "Now What Do We Do?" November 10, 2009 online
- Three of the four engines of economic growth -- consumer spending, business investment and exports -- declined sharply. Consumer spending fell at an annualized rate of 4.3%; business investment in equipment and software sank at an astonishing annual rate of 29%; exports of goods and services plunged 24%. Washington Post Feb. 28, 2009
- An "annualized rate" is four times the actual quarterly rate. Jack Healy, "U.S. Economy in 2nd Straight Quarter of Steep Decline," New York Times April 29, 2009
- see S. Mitra Kalita, "Americans See 18% of Wealth Vanish," Wall Street Journal Mar. 13, 2009
- Jack Healy And Louis Uchitelle, "Steep Slide in U.S. Economy as Unsold Goods Pile Up," New York Times Jan. 30, 2009
- Mark Gongloff, “Best Check on Inflation: Broken Banks,” ’’Wall Street Journal,’’ Mar. 20, 2009
- see Steve Matthews and Timothy R. Homan, "U.S. May Be in for ‘Great Recession,’" Bloomberg News Dec 2, 2008
- . For the GM plan see GM Plan of Feb 17, 2009
- Hiroku Tabuschi, "Japan’s Economy Plunges at Fastest Pace Since ’74," New York Times Feb. 15, 2009