Excluding erratic aircraft data, orders for big-ticket items fell in February for a second straight month -- a possible sign corporate belt-tightening may have begun. Will increasing fiscal thrift put a kibosh on hiring -- or worse, lead to job cuts?
So far, the robust job market has been a pillar holding up consumer spending and economic growth. And it's even more crucial now, as tightening credit and declining home prices put in peril America's wealth effect and spending habits.
So far this decade, nominal gross domestic product has risen at a 5.1% pace, while outstanding credit-market debt is increasing at 8.4%, notes Punk Ziegel analyst Richard Bove. "If the long-term rates were to rise further or incomes grow at slower rates, then it seems highly likely that there would be a rash of defaults throughout the economy," he says.