Last Updated Aug 8, 2011 3:09 PM EDT
The recession caused by the collapse of the mortgage-backed-assets ponzi scheme ended in June of 2009. Technically. That's when the U.S. GDP stopped shrinking and started growing. When that happened business and government declared a recovery. The chattering classes shouted the word like "Hallelujah" at a Baptist tent revival. But while religious fervor may lead to spiritual salvation it has no such effect on the economy.
The dark lining of the "recovery"
Oh, there were some good developments. Corporate profits and executive pay both increased, which was enough to make the stock markets go up. Unfortunately, profits based on cost-cutting measures are not enough something you can build on. Evidence of this was and is everywhere:
- Companies and banks have not started investing or lending despite all sorts of government incentives to do so and are sitting on record amounts of cash. This is a smart thing to do if you're a company expecting bad economic times or a bank very concerned about its debt exposure.
- The U-6 unemployment rate, which measures all those unemployed and underemployed, was at 15.4 percent in January of 2009. Today it is 16.3 percent.
- The average amount of time it takes to find a new job: Nine months.
Domino effect: Europe, the U.S. -- then China
For a while, investors were willing to help the U.S. paper over this issue. Now insolvency is engulfing Eurozone nations. The reality of it there is making it increasingly hard to ignore the reality of it here. As a result, a lot of people now are trying to do as business did and build substantial cash reserves. Hence the markets for the past week. Should the desire for cash begin to expose all the fundamental problems in China's economy, there's is no telling how bad this will get.
It's fascinating to watch folks offer various explanation for the market convulsions that have nothing to do with this basic issue. A WSJ headline reads "Stocks Slide in Downgrade Backlash" as if the U.S. credit rating was somehow at fault. On the same page is "Treasurys Rally: Treasury bonds proved again that they are still a haven for global investors." If the downgrade really mattered, then Treasury yields would be going up, not down. As my BNET colleague Alain Sherter points out, the downgrade is far worse news for the EU than for the U.S.