Tuesday, December 4, 2007

America's vulnerable economy

Signs suggest that the economy could stall in this quarter. By early next year, output and jobs could be shrinking. The main cause is the imploding housing market. Experts said that house prices could never fall nationwide. But fall they have, by 5% in the past 12 months. Residential investment has collapsed, but a glut of unsold homes means that prices have much further to drop. Americans' spending is likely to be dented much more by a fall in house prices than it was in 2001 by the stockmarket's collapse. With house prices lower and credit conditions tighter as a result of the subprime crisis, households can no longer borrow against capital gains to support their spending.

Dearer oil is set to squeeze households further (this week's drop in crude prices notwithstanding). Consumer confidence has already fallen sharply. It cannot be long before consumer spending stumbles, which in turn would hurt companies' profits and investment. The weak dollar will boost exports, but at only 12% of GDP, exports are too small to make up for a weakening of consumer spending, which accounts for 70%.

America's importance as an engine of global growth has been
exaggerated. Since 2000 its share of world imports has dropped from 19%
to 14%. Its vast current-account deficit has started to shrink, meaning
that America is no longer pulling along the rest of the world.

Article Link (Economist)

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