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Monday, November 17, 2008


roubini calls (-10%) GDP

yves discusses the latest missive of nouriel roubini, which articulates his thoughts on the capitulation of the consumer.

Today’s news about October retail sales (-2.8% relative to the previous month and now down in real terms for five months in a row) confirm what this forum has been arguing for a while, i.e. that the U.S. has entered its most severe consumer-led recession in decades. At this rate of free fall in consumption real GDP growth could be a whopping 5% negative or even worse in Q4 of 2008. And this is not a temporary phenomenon as almost all of the fundamentals driving consumption are heading south on a persistent and structural basis. ...

To bring back the household savings rate to the level of a decade ago (about 6% of GDP) consumption will have to fall – relative to current GDP levels – by almost a trillion dollar. If all of this adjustment were to occur in 12 months GDP would contract directly by 7% and indirectly (including the further collapse of residential and corporate capex spending in a severe recession) by 10%, an exemplification of the Keynesian “paradox of thrift”. If such an adjustment were to occur over 24 months rather than 12 months you would still have negative GDP growth of 5% for two years in a row with a cumulative fall in GDP from its peak of 10% (note that in the worst US recession since WWII such cumulative fall in GDP was only 3.7% in 1957-58). One can thus only hope that this adjustment of consumption and savings rates occurs only slowly over time – four years rather than two. Even in that scenario the cumulative fall of GDP could be of the order of 4-5%, i.e. the worst US recession since WWII. Note that the cumulative fall in GDP in the 2001 recession was only 0.4% and in the 1990-9 recession was only 1.3%. So, the current recession may end up being three times as long and at least three times as deep (in terms of output contraction) than the last two and worse than any other post WWII recession.

for context, a commenter at naked capitalism provided the worst annual GDP contractions of the 20th c:

1932: -13.0%
1930: -8.6%
1931: -6.4%
1938: -3.4%

and of course roubini is not making anything like the worst case scenario in caculating a return to a savings rate well below the long-term average and factoring only increased savings and corresponding diminished consumption. with other factors at work, reality could indeed be worse.

this year has indeed seen the return of hardship -- and it will get harder in 2009.

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