sábado, 8 de agosto de 2009

200 dias de Administração Obama (III): Economia começa, lentamente, a recuperar

As boas notícias na Economia (com o desemprego na América, finalmente, a desacelerar) podem diminui o impacto da perda de popularidade de Obama devido às clivagens na Reforma da Saúde.

Um artigo de Irwin Steltzer, na Weekly Standard:

«Washington will be a different place now that the Senate has followed the House of Representatives' flight from the city. On vacation? Certainly not. According to the official House schedule, its members are on their "Summer District Work Period", a time off from legislating that the Senate calls its "State Work Period". Translation: members of both Houses will take some time off, and spend some time hearing from constituents. With Congress's approval rating at around 24 percent, members should get an earful. More on that in a moment.

When Congress leaves town, the lobbyists cannot be far behind. Nor will the president: the Obamas will be heading for Martha's Vineyard, the summer playground of wealthy, liberal Democrats, the sort of people who are unlikely to ruffle the presidential feathers by reminding him of his failure to get his health care or energy program through the Congress, or of his inability to persuade voters that the budget's red ink will turn to black just as soon as they pass his health care reforms. Little wonder: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reckons the president's program will cost some $1 trillion, making people wonder how another trillion of spending can reduce a budget deficit.

This means that the president will interrupt his vacation to flit around the country selling not only his health care plan -- which he now dubs a plan to reform the insurance industry -- the "villains", as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi calls them. He also has to persuade votersto press their senators to back the House-approved cap-and-trade plan to reduce CO2 emissions. That chore was made more difficult when Jairam Ramesh, India's environment minister, told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that his country would not even consider accepting limits on its greenhouse-gas emissions until 2020, if then. India, like China, points out that Europe is not meeting its Kyoto commitments, America is a major polluter, and poor countries have a right to develop their economies. India and China insist on adding massively to their coal-based generating capacity, which means that nothing the Senate can do will affect global warming -- and that the high cost of limiting U.S. emissions would merely be an act of economic masochism.

The problems the president faces in persuading voters that the huge deficits he is running up are sustainable, that the government can run the health care industry that accounts for one-sixth of the economy, and that taxes on energy are a good idea has caused a shift in the administration's strategy. The name of the game now is to trumpet the nascent economic recovery, and take credit for it.

Here, the president is on firmer ground. In the jobs market, less bad is good. Friday's report showed that the economy lost only 247,000 jobs in July, way down from the almost-750,000 monthly loss in January. The unemployment rate ticked down to 9.4 percent from 9.5 percent, but that was due largely to a reduction in the size of the work force, and so doesn't mean much. Average hourly earnings ticked up by 0.2 percent, and the work week lengthened a bit, both good signs. Even the broader measure of unemployment, which includes those able to find only part-time work and workers too discouraged to continue their job search, dropped a bit, from 16.5 percent to 16.3 percent. Still worrying, but given the favorable trend, some economists are now claiming that the recession has ended.

The housing market also seems ready for a transfer from the intensive care unit. Prices have stopped falling and in some cities are rising, sales of new single-family homes rose 11 percent from May to June, and the supply of new homes available for sale is dropping. Pending home sales (under contract but not yet closed) have risen for five consecutive months, suggesting that existing sales are due to rise.

The rest of the economy is also improving. The manufacturing sector rose in July for the seventh straight month, propelled by a growth in new orders for construction equipment, turbines and electrical equipment. Second quarter GDP declined by only 1 percent, compared to a drop of 6.4 percent in the first quarter, and the economy has likely already started to grow. Banks are on the mend, able to raise capital and to charge more for services now that many competitors are no more. Several have repaid the bail-out money they received at the height of the credit crisis, giving the government an estimated 20 percent profit on those loans. Prices investors are willing to pay for risky loans still on banks' books have risen to 90 percent of face value, the highest level in over a year.

"The optimism is justified," Goldman Sachs headlines the latest report of its Investment Strategy Group. For the firm, euphoria would be justified. Goldman made more than $100 million in trading profits on 46 days in the last quarter, during which it racked up record profits
of $3.4 billion, the largest quarterly profit in its 140-year history. So far this year profits total $22 billion, of which half is being reserved for staff bonuses. The company's CEO, Lloyd Blankfein, has bowed to the populist wave sweeping the liberal Democratic Congress and the Oval Office, and asked all employees to eschew ostentatious purchases. Make the old Ferrari do for a while at least. And other firms on Wall Street -- banks and lawyers -- are looking forward to $1 billion in fees for managing the break-up of insurer AIG.

Obama can't take credit for those profits, but since government spending is up by about 10 percent while consumers continue to keep their wallets zipped, he can reasonably claim that the stimulus package he pushed through Congress should get some credit for the improved condition of the economy. But he is being appropriately cautious lest this prove to be a false dawn -- and that caution takes a scary form, "There's still a lot of work to do." Not "they also serve who only stand and wait" for this activist president.

Still to come are more write-downs of loans on the banks' books. The business default rate exceeds 11 percent, and is headed toward 13 percent, compared with 2.4 percent last year. Business are loaded down with over $1 trillion in high-yield bonds and loans, and so will have to concentrate on debt repayment before they can undertake major new investments. The number of prime borrowers behind on their mortgage payments rose 13.8 percent between March and June, according to a study by Standard & Poor. Delinquencies on consumer credit cards are rising. And estimates are that some $30 billion in loans backed by commercial property will have trouble getting renewed, and might end up having to be written off.

And all is not well in the credit markets. Loans held by the 15 largest banks declined by 2.8 percent in the second quarter, with new businesses still unable to get loan officers to stamp "OK" on their applications.

Most ominous, the massive deficits, soon to be increased by an estimated $20 billion over five years to finance the training and expansion of the Afghan army, are forcing the Treasury to auction off more and more IOUs. The increased supply of these bonds and notes has forced down their price, which means that the interest rate the government must pay is rising. If the increase in rates spreads to other securities, the recovery will be slowed as consumers and businesses find borrowing to spend and invest more expensive.

Still, Obama has a good story to tell about the economy, a lot better than the story he can tell about his now largely discredited health care plan. So look for him to scale back his ambition to set up a government-run health system, and instead prepare for next year's congressional elections by claiming credit for the emerging economic turnaround. And if he can do that, he will add, you certainly can trust him to be right on a host of other plans to "transform" the U.S. economy.»