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Retail sales in the U.S. dropped in October by the most on record, pushing the economy toward the worst slump in decades.
The 2.8 percent decrease was the fourth consecutive drop and the biggest since records began in 1992, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. Purchases excluding automobiles also posted their worst performance.
Spending may continue to falter as mounting job losses, plunging stocks and falling home values leave household finances in tatters. Retailers from Best Buy Co. to Nordstrom Inc. are cutting revenue forecasts ahead of what may be the worst holiday shopping season in six years.
``We are in the eye of the storm,'' said James O'Sullivan, a senior economist at UBS Securities LLC in Stamford, Connecticut, who accurately projected the decline in sales. ``The recession is clearly intensifying. The next few months will look pretty bad. The fourth quarter will be even weaker.''
Banks across the U.S. are engaged in a heated competition for deposits as the battered industry tries to shore up its funding sources.
From giant Citigroup Inc. to tiny S&T Bancorp Inc. -- which is based in Indiana, Pa. and has just 55 branches -- banks are responding to uncertain times by sharply increasing the interest rates paid on deposits.
The result is a boon for consumers hungry for higher returns as the stock market lurches. But the moves are causing pain for large and small banks across the U.S. by squeezing their profit margins.
The desire to lure depositors is triggering a "national price war," says Michael Poulos, a partner at financial-services consulting firm Oliver Wyman. "In the past 15 years, there's been nothing like this. The level of competitive intensity is unprecedented right now."
The deposit-collecting binge could help banks build up the funds needed to make new loans. That could help ease the credit crunch choking the economy.
A global economic slowdown, financial turmoil and home-grown problems pushed the 15-nation euro zone into its first recession since the debut of the single currency nearly a decade ago, data showed Friday.
The region's third-quarter gross domestic product shrank 0.2% compared to the previous quarter, according to the statistical agency Eurostat. The second quarter also saw a 0.2% decline.
Recession is commonly defined as two or more consecutive quarters of falling GDP.
On an annualized basis, GDP for the July-through-September period rose 0.7% compared to the same period last year -- the slowest pace of annual growth in more than six years.
And it's going to get worse, economists say.
"With manufacturing activity in a freefall due to an inventory overhang and plunging orders, services hit hard by the credit crisis and construction activity starting to contract, future growth prospects appear gloomy," said Aurelio Maccario, chief euro-zone economist at UniCredit MIB in Milan.
The recession's likely to deepen in the current quarter and into the first quarter of 2009, said Maccario, who has penciled in 0.4% declines for both quarters, as well as a negative outturn in the second quarter before signs of a rebound emerge during the second half.
Also of note, bank lending is likely to slow sharply, said Ben May, an economist at Capital Economics.
And with exports set to drop amid the global economic slowdown and falling house prices likely to erode household wealth, the euro zone is on track to contract by 1% in 2009, he said.
Reinforcing the gloom, European registrations for new passenger cars fell 15% on the year in October, to 1.13 million vehicles, as consumers continued to delay big-ticket purchases, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association, said Friday.
Hong Kong's economy moved into recession for the first time in five years in the third quarter, as the financial crisis ripped through its property and stocks markets, and slowing global business conditions damped demand for service-sector dependant economy.
Gross domestic product contracted 0.5% from the previous quarter, after contracting 1.4% in the second quarter, according to government data released Friday.
"Demand towards the end of the quarter was severely hit by the outbreak of the global financial tsunami that caused significant jitters in the local asset markets," the government said in the release
First-time claims for U.S. unemployment insurance rose last week to the highest level since September 2001, when the economy was last in a recession, as weakening demand led companies to fire more workers.
Initial jobless claims increased by 32,000 to a larger- than-forecast 516,000 in the week ended Nov. 8, from a revised 484,000 the prior week, the Labor Department said today in Washington. The total number of people on benefit rolls jumped to the highest level since 1983.
Restrictive credit and slumping demand are causing companies to retrench by trimming payrolls and investment. Rising joblessness will further squeeze consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the economy, and threaten a protracted downturn, economists said.
``The labor market is only reinforcing a very pessimistic picture,'' Linda Barrington, a labor economist at the Conference Board, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. ``When you start to see the downward pressure on wages as well as the credit crunch, that's only going to make consumers much more nervous.''
The global hedge fund industry lost $100 billion of assets in October, according to an estimate from Eurekahedge Pte, as firms including Sparx Group Co. and Man Group Plc were hammered by investor redemptions.
Funds fell an average 3.3 percent, based on preliminary figures from the Singapore-based data provider, as measured by the Eurekahedge Hedge Fund Index, which tracks the performance of more than 2,000 funds that invest globally. That compares with a 19 percent slide in the MSCI World Index last month.
The biggest market losses since the Great Depression and investor withdrawals hurt the $1.7 trillion hedge funds industry that manages largely unregulated pools of capital. The index of global funds has lost 11 percent this year, set for the worst performance since 2000 when Eurekahedge began tracking the data.
``This wave of redemptions in the hedge fund industry is going to last for at least another six months,'' said Toyomi Kusano, president of Kusano Global Frontier, a hedge fund research firm in Tokyo. ``There are some funds that halted withdrawals, but those funds would eventually have to defreeze, and that means another wave of redemptions.''
Intel Corp.'s deep cuts to its fourth-quarter guidance offers further evidence that technology companies are in for a beating because of the economy.
The Santa Clara-based company slashed more than $1 billion from its sales forecast and dialed its profit expectations way back. Intel, the world's biggest maker of PC microprocessors with 80 percent of the global market, blamed a clampdown on spending for reducing demand for its chips.
Cisco Systems Inc., the world's largest maker of computer networking gear, reported that orders fell off abruptly in October. The grim forecast suggested that other tech companies will have to absorb major damage to their sales as well. Cisco was the first major technology company to report results that included October.
More specific warning signs for the PC sector emerged last week when Lenovo Group Ltd., the world's fourth-largest PC maker, reported that profits plunged 78 percent.
Intel blamed "significantly weaker than expected demand in all geographies and market segments" and PC makers buying fewer new chips as they burn through existing inventory to save money.
Shares of Best Buy fell nearly 12% in premarket trading to $21.08. Since Sept. 12, the stock has tumbled more than 46%.
"Since mid-September, rapid, seismic changes in consumer behavior have created the most difficult climate we've ever seen," said Brad Anderson, the company's vice chairman and chief executive officer. "Best Buy simply can't adjust fast enough to maintain our earnings momentum for this year."
One-third of U.S. homeowners who sold their property in the 12 months through September lost money as foreclosures depressed prices and more Americans became unemployed in a weakening economy, Zillow.com reported.
Home values fell 9.7 percent in the third quarter, the seventh consecutive decline, to a median $202,966, Seattle-based Zillow, a seller of real estate data, said in a report today. One in seven homeowners had negative equity, or owed more on their mortgages than their houses were worth.
``It's clear we are at a unique point in history,'' Stan Humphries, Zillow's vice president of data and analytics, said in a statement. ``We've had seven consecutive quarters of decline, and we expect that to continue until at least the middle of next year. Most markets are still seeing five-year annualized returns, but we will see more markets slip into flat or negative long-term change as the economy continues to suffer.''
In the current survey, large net fractions of domestic institutions reported having continued to tighten their lending standards and terms on all major loan categories over the previous three months. The net percentages of respondents that reported tightening standards increased relative to the July survey for both C&I and commercial real estate loans, as did the fractions reporting tightening for all price and nonprice terms on C&I loans. Considerable net fractions of foreign institutions also tightened credit standards and terms on loans to businesses over the past three months. Large fractions of domestic banks reported tightening standards on loans to households over the same period. Demand for loans from both businesses and households at domestic institutions continued to weaken, on net, over the past three months.
Participants turned bearish on 10-year Treasury notes this month for the first time since March, while remaining bullish on government debt from Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain, Switzerland and the U.K., according to the Bloomberg Professional Global Confidence Index. The poll questioned 3,550 Bloomberg users last week.
``The No. 1 reason is supply,'' said Jason Brady, a survey participant and managing director at Santa Fe, New Mexico-based Thornburg Investment Management, which oversees $4 billion in fixed income assets. ``You have Fed and Treasury actions which are supporting credit markets and causing a huge amount of issuance.''
Last week the Treasury Department estimated that it will need to borrow $550 billion this quarter, more than triple an earlier forecast. New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said Oct. 29 the government's requirement this fiscal year that started Oct. 1 will almost double to $2 trillion.
The federal budget deficit may climb 58 percent to $687.5 billion for fiscal 2009 as U.S. debt swells and the slowing economy crimps tax receipts, according to a survey by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association of its members released Oct. 31.
Expectations that yields on 10-year U.S. notes will rise increased to 54.08 in November after reaching a seven-month low of 48.91 in October, according to the Bloomberg survey. The measure is a diffusion index, meaning a reading above 50 indicates that participants expect bonds to weaken and yields to go up.
The world must find an extra 64 million barrels a day of oil production by 2030, equivalent to replacing Kuwait's output every year, to meet demand growth and counter the decline of existing fields, the International Energy Agency said.
The agency, an adviser to 28 nations, forecasts global oil demand will rise by 1 percent a year through 2030, while the output decline at existing fields will accelerate to 8.6 percent from 6.7 percent. There must be ``adequate and timely'' investment in global oil output for supplies to suffice, the Paris-based IEA said in its annual World Energy Outlook published today.
``There remains a real risk that under-investment will cause an oil-supply crunch'' by 2015 as the decline in output from mature oilfields speeds up, the Paris-based adviser said. ``The gap now evident between what is currently being built and what will be needed to keep pace with demand is set to widen sharply after 2010.''
An additional 64 million barrels a day of additional production must be bought on stream between 2007 and 2030, the group said. That is about 2.78 million barrels a day every year. Kuwait currently produces about 2.6 million barrels a day, according to Bloomberg estimates.
So we need a fiscal stimulus big enough to close a 7% output gap. Remember, if the stimulus is too big, it does much less harm than if it’s too small. What’s the multiplier? Better, we hope, than on the early-2008 package. But you’d be hard pressed to argue for an overall multiplier as high as 2.
When I put all this together, I conclude that the stimulus package should be at least 4% of GDP, or $600 billion.
The United States may be on course to lose its 'AAA' rating due to the large amount of debt it has accumulated, according to Martin Hennecke, senior manager of private clients at Tyche.
"The U.S. might really have to look at a default on the bankruptcy reorganization of the present financial system" and the bankruptcy of the government is not out of the realm of possibility, Hennecke said.
Citigroup on Monday joined a growing list of financial institutions offering to modify the terms of mortgages for distressed borrowers, unveiling a program to help thousands meet their monthly payments while reducing the bank’s potential for larger losses as the economy erodes.
About 130,000 mortgage customers are expected to qualify for the program, resulting in the workouts of over $20 billion of loans. Bank executives said they believed it would reduce losses by hundreds of millions of dollars, and possibly more. Like some of its competitors, Citi will also hold off foreclosing on troubled borrowers who have income enough to make their monthly payment and who make a good-faith effort to work out their loan with the bank.
JPMorgan Chase, which acquired Washington Mutual and its troubled loan portfolio, announced plans in late October to cut monthly payments by lowering interest rates and temporarily reducing loan balances for as many as 400,000 homeowners. Bank of America, which acquired the large mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, announced a similar program aimed at 400,000 borrowers as part of a settlement with state officials a few weeks earlier. And HSBC ramped up its mortgage modification effort in January, and has adjusted 61,000 mortgages so far this year.
The loan modification programs closely resemble one that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation put in place at IndyMac after it took over that bank in mid-July. Citi plans to reduce monthly payments by temporarily reducing loan balances and by cutting interest rates to as low as 1 percent for up to 2 years. The F.D.I.C. has said it may be able to help 47,000 delinquent IndyMac borrowers.
"October will prove to be a disaster for retail sales, with only the discounters having anything to cheer about," wrote Avery Shenfeld, an economist for CIBC World Markets. "Note that the ex-autos number will partly reflect the drop in nominal gas-station sales on falling pump prices, and will therefore exaggerate the decline in real terms."
The real problem is on the demand side of the economy.
Consumers won't or can't borrow because they're at the end of their ropes. Their incomes are dropping (one of the most sobering statistics in Friday's jobs report was the continued erosion of real median earnings), they're deeply in debt, and they're afraid of losing their jobs.
Introductory economic courses explain that aggregate demand is made up of four things, expressed as C+I+G+exports. C is consumers. Consumers are cutting back on everything other than necessities. Because their spending accounts for 70 percent of the nation's economic activity and is the flywheel for the rest of the economy, the precipitous drop in consumer spending is causing the rest of the economy to shut down.
I is investment. Absent consumer spending, businesses are not going to invest.
Exports won't help much because the of the rest of the world is sliding into deep recession, too. (And as foreigners -- as well as Americans -- put their savings in dollars for safe keeping, the value of the dollar will likely continue to rise relative to other currencies. That, in turn, makes everything we might sell to the rest of the world more expensive.)
That leaves G, which, of course, is government. Government is the spender of last resort. Government spending lifted America out of the Great Depression. It may be the only instrument we have for lifting America out of the Mini Depression. Even Fed Chair Ben Bernanke is now calling for a sizable government stimulus. He knows that monetary policy won't work if there's inadequate demand.
That said, F.D.R. did not, in fact, manage to engineer a full economic recovery during his first two terms. This failure is often cited as evidence against Keynesian economics, which says that increased public spending can get a stalled economy moving. But the definitive study of fiscal policy in the ’30s, by the M.I.T. economist E. Cary Brown, reached a very different conclusion: fiscal stimulus was unsuccessful “not because it does not work, but because it was not tried.”
This may seem hard to believe. The New Deal famously placed millions of Americans on the public payroll via the Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps. To this day we drive on W.P.A.-built roads and send our children to W.P.A.-built schools. Didn’t all these public works amount to a major fiscal stimulus?
Well, it wasn’t as major as you might think. The effects of federal public works spending were largely offset by other factors, notably a large tax increase, enacted by Herbert Hoover, whose full effects weren’t felt until his successor took office. Also, expansionary policy at the federal level was undercut by spending cuts and tax increases at the state and local level.
And F.D.R. wasn’t just reluctant to pursue an all-out fiscal expansion — he was eager to return to conservative budget principles. That eagerness almost destroyed his legacy. After winning a smashing election victory in 1936, the Roosevelt administration cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits and led to a major defeat in the 1938 midterm elections.
What saved the economy, and the New Deal, was the enormous public works project known as World War II, which finally provided a fiscal stimulus adequate to the economy’s needs.
Taiwan's central bank on Sunday cut its key interest rate for the fourth time in less than eight weeks after the island posted its biggest decline in exports in nearly four years. The move in Taiwan came two days after South Korea reduced its main interest rate. Both cut rates by a quarter of a percentage point.
The interest-rate reduction that the Bank of Korea announced on Friday was its third in four weeks, as Seoul tries to fight off an abrupt slowing of the country's economy.
Dear Secretary Paulson:
We are writing to request that you review the feasibility of invoking the authority Congress provided you under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (EESA) for the purpose of providing temporary assistance to the automobile industry during the current financial crisis. Under EESA, Congress granted you broad discretion to purchase, or make commitments to purchase, financial instruments you determine necessary to restore financial market stability. A healthy automobile manufacturing sector is essential to the restoration of financial market stability, the overall health of our economy, and the livelihood of the automobile sector’s workforce.
The economic downturn and the crisis in our financial markets further imperiled our domestic automobile industry and its workforce. On Thursday, we separately met with the leaders of the automobile industry, and its top union representative, to discuss the financial challenges confronting the industry and its workforce, and possible actions to address these challenges. We left the meetings convinced that our nation’s automobile industry - the heart of our manufacturing sector - and the jobs of tens of thousands of American workers are at risk. Friday’s news of the automobile industry’s record low sales figures only reaffirm the need for urgent action.
Were you to determine that the automobile industry is eligible for assistance under EESA, we would urge you to impose strong conditions on such assistance in order to protect taxpayers and maximize the potential for the industry’s recovery. An automobile industry that is forward-looking and focused on ingenuity, competitiveness, and the creation of green jobs for the future is essential to its long-term viability. Other taxpayer protections should mirror those required of financial institutions currently participating in the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), such as limits on executive compensation and equity stakes to provide taxpayers a return on their investment upon the industry’s recovery. Any assistance to the automobile industry should reflect the principles contained in EESA that guard against the need to recoup costs to the taxpayers.
We must safeguard the interests of American taxpayers, protect the hundreds of thousands of automobile workers and retirees, stop the erosion of our manufacturing base, and bolster our economy. It is our hope that the actions that Congress has taken, and that the Administration may take, will restore the preeminence of our domestic manufacturing industry so that it can emerge as a global, competitive leader in fuel efficiency and in new and path-breaking energy-efficient technologies that protect our environment. We appreciate your serious consideration of this request, and look forward to your response.
Speaker of the House
Senate Majority Leader
The economic downturn and the crisis in our financial markets further imperiled our domestic automobile industry and its workforce.
Were you to determine that the automobile industry is eligible for assistance under EESA, we would urge you to impose strong conditions on such assistance in order to protect taxpayers and maximize the potential for the industry’s recovery. An automobile industry that is forward-looking and focused on ingenuity, competitiveness, and the creation of green jobs for the future is essential to its long-term viability.
Other taxpayer protections should mirror those required of financial institutions currently participating in the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP), such as limits on executive compensation and equity stakes to provide taxpayers a return on their investment upon the industry’s recovery.