Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fed's Lockhart on Financial Crisis

by Calculated Risk on 9/30/2008 02:24:00 PM

Here is a good explanation of the problems in the credit markets from Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart: A Working Financial Sector Matters to Us All

Credit markets remain quite strained. This is particularly the case in interbank markets in the United States and abroad. The interbank markets are a fundamental element of the plumbing of the financial world. Banks with excess balances put them to work by lending to other banks that have clients—companies and individuals—who need the funds.

The loan portfolios of U.S. banks and financial institutions are, as you would expect, mostly dollar-denominated. But foreign banks in recent years have also built sizeable "books of business" in dollars. The dollar interbank credit contraction is a worldwide problem that affects not only our banks here but banks overseas, particularly in Europe.

When banks lend or take on other forms of exposure to each other, they gauge the counterparty risk. In recent weeks, there has been a widespread withdrawal of confidence in counterparties that has resulted in efforts to reduce exposure.

As part of this, maturities have shortened, risk spreads (typically measured as the interest rate spread over U.S. Treasuries) have widened, the cost of hedging against default risk (another measure of perceived counterparty risk) has risen dramatically, and the range of assets accepted as collateral has narrowed. Also, demand for liquidity provided by the Federal Reserve has intensified.

This contraction in availability and rise of the cost of credit have worsened as well for corporate and business borrowers. We've heard anecdotes confirming this from contacts throughout the Southeast. In short, Main Street is being affected.
And on the economy:
Prior to September, we at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta had a rather downbeat outlook for the second half of 2008 and early 2009. We expected—and continue to expect—a very weak second half reflecting contracting consumer spending, weaker business investment, and slower export volume.

Export demand has been an important factor that has helped sustain the U.S. manufacturing sector in recent months. But economic growth prospects in many of our major trading partners have weakened notably in recent months, and this weakening has dampened the outlook for the export sector.

Conditions in labor markets also have weakened. During the first half of 2008 the data showed that residential construction and related manufacturing industries were reducing their workforce while other businesses were hesitant to add to payrolls. But more recently the data suggest that layoffs have become more widespread, and hiring intentions have pulled back further.

Weak labor markets feed into weak income growth and sluggish consumer spending. Reports from retailers suggest that the outlook for the upcoming holiday season has been pared back as consumers are expected to tighten their belts further. At the same time, lending standards for most types of consumer credit have tightened.
emphasis added
Note that Lockhart was already pessimistic before September, and for good reasons. The PCE numbers for August, released yesterday by the BEA, strongly suggest the long anticipated consumer recession has started. September will probably be worse.

And Lockhart is clearly pessimistic on business spending, layoffs, and especially the slowdown of U.S. trading partners (impacting exports). The recession is here.

Note: I think the PCE numbers were somewhat overlooked with the focus on the House vote on the bailout plan. I'll put up a somewhat technical post this afternoon on the two month method, and why it suggests a decline in PCE in Q3 (and probably a decline in Q3 GDP).