Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are Things Really Betting Better?

I've been remarkably bullish of late -- which for me is a huge change. The bottom line is I think the numbers are moderating. However, as I hopefully point out on a regular enough basis -- the economy and the markets like to make an ass out of me whenever possible.

To the bullish side we have this article from the WSJ:

After a queasy period when the U.S. economy went from bad to dreadful beginning last fall, a series of improved reports has fueled hopes that the country is on the cusp of recovery. Corporate borrowing costs have fallen. Surveys of businesses and households show increased confidence. The labor market is showing tentative signs of improvement. Investors have seized onto these "green shoots," as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke called them, sending the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 30% from its 12-year low in March.

Yet last week's government report that retail sales fell in April sapped hopes that consumer spending is on the rise. And the housing market, where the seeds of recession were sown, remains distressed. In brief, the signs of recovery so far have been inconclusive.

"The shoots are still pretty green and pretty thin," warns economist James Hamilton of the University of California, San Diego.

You can read Hamilton over at Econbrowser.

On the negative side, we have this story:

Commercial real-estate loans could generate losses of $100 billion by the end of next year at more than 900 small and midsize U.S. banks if the economy's woes deepen, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

Such loans, which fund the construction of shopping malls, office buildings, apartment complexes and hotels, could account for nearly half the losses at the banks analyzed by the Journal, consuming capital that is an essential cushion against bad loans.

Total losses at those banks could surpass $200 billion over that period, according to the Journal's analysis, which utilized the same worst-case scenario the federal government used in its recent stress tests of 19 large banks. Under that scenario, more than 600 small and midsize banks could see their capital shrink to levels that usually are considered worrisome by federal regulators. The potential losses could exceed revenue over that period at nearly all the banks

So -- I think the answer is "it depends". However, I still think a big key is the increase in the way people feel. To that end, I think these three polls are compelling: