A larger number of market participants are saying that the business cycle is likely to recover in early 2010, and that it will be driven by strong demand, now that the global economy appears to have diminished the pace of contraction.
A fundamental question rises from that thought process; from where is that demand likely to come? We have two main groups to pull from here; consumers, and from industry, and both seem increasingly unlikely to assist in the expansion phase.
Consumer demand is usually driven by credit. However, credit card and loan/mortgage defaults are surging to a record high on both sides of the Atlantic, while, the velocity of money – which speaking from a theoretical point of view, measures the level of economic activity – has reached very low values for the vast majority of developed economies.
The U.S. saving rate increased exponentially, in-line with the drop of available credit, to 7% in the last few months, the highest rate seen since 1993, after being at negative rates just a little more than a year ago. This situation points to a consumer that has started saving for their financial safety, rather than building a pile of unsustainable debt as in previous decades that aided economic expansion, but ultimately proved toxic for Wall Street and Main Street.
As admirable as it is that savings have been forced on consumers, and the heady days of Main Street excess look to be fully restrained, the administration will be pushing for an increase in consumer debt to fund the expansion that pays back the stimulus packages. Strike one; the U.S. consumer will not be consuming the economy into growth anytime soon.
The glimmer of hope, is that global savings rates eclipse the rate at which Americans save, and as such the overseas savers may be able to spark a consumption rally. That however, remains nothing other than a glimmer, rather than a ray of consumption sunshine.
Industrial demand is in a comparable situation to the consumer driven demand. During the economic downturn a high percentage of factories have been temporarily closed, or have reduced output dramatically, while employees are fired. This means that when the economy picks up and factories see a stronger backlog of orders, they will simply re-open the idled machineries, instead of buying or building new.
This economic phenomenon is known as economic slack, and can be measured using the capacity utilization report and detail. Since the U.S. economic slowdown started, the capacity utilization rate has dropped at a very strong pace, and has been far stronger than in previous economic slowdowns.
Due to the economic slack, industrial demand is likely to stay at low rates, until the economy reaches once again the 2007 production levels. That is something that is not likely to happen until the consumer in the U.S. starts to consume. Strike two: the industrial sector will not be manufacturing its way to economic growth anytime soon.
All this put together shows that the recovery period will be slow, and long, and when translated into market momentum will likely transpose itself into a side-ways trend in the currency market over the medium to longer term.
Investors and analysts will try to value regional business cycles and local economic growth, and while that is unfolding divergence will be seen in regional valuations and expectancy. The same divergence was seen recently when the forex market was unable to push the dollar lower in spite of one of the longest, and strongest, equity rallies of the last few years.
The forex market might come back to life on its own, going forward, breaking some of the high correlations it had with S&P futures over the last year, as the regional debt-to-growth ratios are absorbed and valued.
The easiest way to generate growth, historically, is to cut interest rates, lower taxation, and force credit onto banks. However, as we have witnessed from 2003 to 2007, there is a harsh price to pay for the famine to feast business cycle that the U.S. is travelling, as it goes from contraction to peak, and back down again, in record time.
The troughs get deeper, whilst the cycles get shallower, and that creates a unique U.S. based conundrum that may, over time, impact negatively the Usd perception that the consumer will save the day. Just how will the consumer be able to do that? Strike three: the administration may be issuing a new, bigger, better, stimulus package, that covers the interest on the previous package, that looks to be like a drop in the ocean of what is really required.