Daily Flog: California, here we go; crisis also sweeps through Asia


Like a game of Risk played on speed, big investors are scurrying around the world looking for hiding places from which to make their last stand. Asian markets are now feeling the impact of the Fall Street fallout.

Things are so strange that the Bush Administration is even on the verge of nationalizing banks, as I noted last night. Republicans veering toward socialism. OK, even in the good times we already had a deeply entrenched corporate-welfare system, and maybe this is just nationalized health-care for banks, but still . . .

Hunkered down in the States, I’m one Okie who’s glad he already fled East. This morning’s Wall Street Journal story “First Into Recession, California Shows Possible Future for U.S.” explains why it might be safer to keep living in the Dust Bowl or anyplace other than the formerly Golden State:

Here’s the latest trend that started in California and is spreading to the rest of the country: recession.

It’s all but certain the U.S. economy is in a recession, as falling home prices and Wall Street turmoil have put the brakes on consumer spending and stoked unemployment. But California got there first. Now, the state provides a template of how a broad U.S. downturn could look.

With its export businesses, manufacturing sector, professional services and big retail employers, California looks like many other U.S. states, only more so. California’s $1.8 trillion economy — twice the size of India’s and accounting for about 15 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product — is powerful enough to have ripple effects nationally. It is home to Hollywood, five of 30 Major League Baseball franchises and the largest farming sector in the nation.

California was also at the leading edge of the nation’s recent housing bubble, which is where its current problems started. Home prices in California rose higher and faster than in most of the U.S., and started weakening earlier, in 2005. Some mortgage-holders defaulted. Others struggle along under a mountain of debt.

The problems spread to the state’s financial sector, which was heavily exposed to local real estate. As Californians cut their spending, job losses spread from the housing sector to retail stores and auto dealers. Now the state’s unemployment rate is 7.7 percent, among the highest in the nation.

A lot of Californians are probably kicking themselves for having listened to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger when he said, “Come with me if you want to live!”

Run in the opposite direction. And don’t worry: You can still race for cover in some pimp kicks. The bad news from California and the Asian markets doesn’t mean that you have to rush to FootLocker — the Asian sweatshops that manufacture your sneakers are still functioning abnormally.

As for the good things? Forget it. Like book-review sections in newspapers, good things are already getting sliced by the bad times. For instance, this sad news for huggers of trees and the solar-energy industry: Surviving investment bank Goldman Sachs “slapped sell ratings on the two largest publicly traded U.S. solar power firms, with the broker flagging the possibility of oversupply as overseas subsidies dry up in the face of the global economic meltdown,” MarketWatch has reported.

While the investment bank’s former CEO, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, is bailing out banks, Goldman analyst Michael Molnar is single-handedly dooming prospects for the alternative-energy industry around the world:

“The risk of oversupply in the solar market will soon become a reality as considerably less generous demand subsidies take hold just as a wave of supply and tight financing hit the market,” Molnar said in a note to clients. “We believe that liberal subsidies of the past in markets like Germany and Spain are unlikely to be replicated in the future given fears of their ultimate cost in a bad world economy.”

Great news for Big Oil, which, as I previously pointed out, is already sitting on big piles of cash.

It figures that oil would remain more liquid than other industries, but in this case the liquid is green and it hasn’t peaked.

While everyone’s frantically looking for cash, Big Oil and the private-equity dweebs are sitting on billions, just waiting for things to bottom out before they swoop in and snatch up companies for pennies on the dollar.

For the rest of us? If you think things are bad now, just wait. That’s the word from China, which is about to replace the U.S. as the 21st century superpower. In an interview with the China rag 21st Century Business Herald (reprinted in Beijing Review), big-cigar banker Wang Zili says:

It’s widely believed that the U.S. financial crisis has reached a peak. I personally estimate that another one or two financial giants will fall victim to the debacle, accompanied by the collapse of an array of medium-sized investment banks. With gloomy sentiment taking hold over the markets, there is no end to the crisis yet in sight. Since signs of credit stress are proliferating in the markets, the engines of the U.S. economy, which relies on credit to fuel growth, have essentially been stuck.

But what’s worse is that U.S. financial credit may even dry up if massive global capital flees the U.S. capital markets to stave off further losses. If that occurs, the hopes of containing the damage to the financial system will evaporate. In other words, the real economy will also be woefully pinched. That would be the greatest depression in the country since its founding, substantially denting its overall strength.

The world financial crisis wasn’t exactly helped by an exceedingly gloomy forecast by the International Monetary Fund. As the Financial Times reported on market action early yesterday:

A grim warning from the International Monetary Fund sent shudders through Asian equity markets on Wednesday.

Japanese shares dropped 9.4 per cent — their biggest one-day fall since 1987 — in a grey day for Asian equities as fears deepened that more financial institutions would fail after the IMF said the global banking sector may need $675bn of fresh capital.

If you want to scare yourself, see the transcript of yesterday’s IMF “World Economic Outlook” press conference in D.C.

Does this make you want to lace up your Nikes and start running? Wait, here’s more stuff, old and new . . .


Al Jazeera: ‘Arab markets continue to dive’

The Oil Drum: ‘How Much Nationalization Is Appropriate?’

Terrorism Monitor: ‘Is the U.S.-Pakistan Alliance Against Terrorism Coming to an End?’

United for a Fair Economy: ‘Executive Excess 2008: How Average Taxpayers Subsidize Runaway Pay’

Institute for Policy Studies: ‘A Sensible Plan for Recovery’

Students for an Orwellian Society: ‘Big Brother Bush’s Eighth State of the Allied Bloc Nations Address’

Waxman Committee: ‘Hearing on the Causes and Effects of the AIG Bailout’ (video) ‘McCain: “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran” ‘ (video)

CounterPunch: ‘The Debate in Nashville: Imbecilic Tedium’ (Alexander Cockburn)