Monday, February 3, 2014

If consumers can't buy, and can't refinance, a recession follows

 - by New Deal democrat

It's not too often when the Progressive point of the day coincides exactly with something wonky I was going to say, but well, today is such a day.

From the New York Times via Charlie Pierce and Atrios, we learn that
As politicians and pundits in Washington continue to spar over whether economic inequality is in fact deepening, in corporate America there really is no debate at all. The post-recession reality is that the customer base for businesses that appeal to the middle class is shrinking as the top tier pulls even further away.
 In the 4th quarter of 2013, consumers only got a little help.  We got two reports on median wages in the last couple of weeks.

First came the Census Bureau's report os usual weekly wages:

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Usual weekly wages went up $1 adjusted for inflation in the 4th quarter.  The post-recession bottom was in the 3rd quarter of 2012 and the 1st quarter of 2013.  Usual weekly wages have stagnated since the end of the tech boom, now nearly 15 years ago.  The big jump during the recession is when gas prices fell from $4.25 a gallon to below $1.50 a gallon, and the decline from 2009 through 2012 was gas prices going right back up to nearly $4 a gallon again.

Last week the Employment Cost Index was reported.  This is another median measure.  In nominal terms, median wages rose over 2% for the first time in over 4 years:

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Adjusted for inflation, in 2013 median wages rose about 0.5% from 2012, and were at about 2007 levels. But note they are still below their 2008 levels, let alone their levels a decade ago in 2002--04

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Which brings me to my reminder that the middle class being unable to refinance due to either a rising asset price like their house, or due to lower interest rates for at least 3 years, has been a precursor to recession:

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Interest rates made a likely once-in-a-liefetime low in July 2012, over 18 months ago, and as this graph from Mortgage News Daily shows, refinancing has dried up:

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As much as Pierce, Atrios and other progressives dislike the current situation, imagine a new recession and X millions more Americans losing their jobs.  That we will have an incomplete recovery before that happens is my biggest fear.