US, China manufacturing sectors are contracting, as NBER declares a recession.

December 1, 2008

Today Mr. Bernanke enlightened us further on his solution to the credit crisis. What they will be doing, in essence, is selling Treasuries to the market in order to accumulate the funds with which the bailouts are financed, and after that, as yields fall to very low levels, buying the same Treasury bonds, and thereby injecting liquidity to the markets. Thus it sound circular? It does, and it is another of the Federal Reserve’s much publicized but eventually useless financial trickery.  

Why were the Treasuries sold? Because the government wanted to assume the role of the financial intermediary, as banks were unable to undertake their usual duties in that capacity. Since liquidity didn’t flow through private financial channels, the government sucked it out, and splashed it on bankrupt firms, by virtue of its AAA credit rating, and sovereign status. So what makes the Federal Reserve expect that throwing that same liquidity back into the market through Treasury buybacks will cause any changes? In fact, it’s a declaration of bankruptcy. The more he tries to reduce the rates on treasury bonds, the more liquidity will be sucked from markets, since more attractive government paper will necessarily cause other asset classes to present  even less value to investors. We’re back to square one:

“Although further reductions from the current federal funds rate target of 1 percent are certainly feasible, at this point the scope for using conventional interest-rate policies to support the economy is obviously limited,” Bernanke said in remarks to the Austin Chamber of Commerce.

One option for reviving the economy is for the Fed to buy “longer-term Treasury or agency securities on the open market in substantial quantities,” Bernanke said. “This approach might influence the yields on these securities, thus helping to spur aggregate demand.”

While Bernanke was “pretty aggressive on the possibility of the Fed using its balance sheet aggressively through Treasury purchases,” he wasn’t specific about the policy path because he probably didn’t want to preempt the discussion at the FOMC meeting in two weeks, said Sack, a former Fed economist.

The Fed will “continue to explore ways” to keep the market federal funds rate closer to policy makers’ target, after paying 1 percent interest on banks’ reserves failed to stabilize the rate, Bernanke said. The average daily rate has been below the central bank’s target every day since Oct. 10.

That’s because Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which are “large suppliers of funds,” aren’t eligible to get interest from the Fed and thus lend below the Fed’s target, Bernanke said.

Last week, the Fed announced two new programs aimed at unfreezing credit for homebuyers, consumers and small businesses. Those include a commitment to buy as much as $600 billion of debt issued or backed by government-chartered housing-finance companies and a $200 billion initiative to support consumer and small-business loans.

 ‘Sustainable Level’

The Fed’s balance sheet “will eventually have to be brought back to a more sustainable level,” Bernanke said. “However, that is an issue for the future; for now, the goal of policy must be to support financial markets and the economy.”

US manufacturing contracted in November at the steepest rate in 26 years. Chinese manufacturing PMI aso contracted.

The Institute for Supply Management’s factory index dropped to 36.2, below economists’ forecasts, and its gauge of raw- material costs plunged to the least in six decades, intensifying concern over deflation. The Tempe, Arizona-based group’s report came as factory indexes in China, the U.K., euro area, and Russia all fell to record lows.

 “This downturn in the global economy is probably more synchronized than we have ever seen,” said Jonathan Basile, an economist at Credit Suisse Holdings in New York. Policy makers should “open the flood gates” for more action, he said.

Construction Spending

A report from the Commerce Department also showed construction spending fell 1.2 percent in October, a bigger drop than forecast, as a slump in homebuilding spread to non- residential projects such as power plants, churches and highways.

China’s purchasing managers’ index fell to a seasonally adjusted 38.8 from 44.6 in October, the China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing reported today. An index covering the 15 nations sharing the euro dropped to 35.6, the lowest since Markit Economics began the poll in 1998.

VTB Bank Europe’s index covering Russia fell to 39.8, and the U.K.’s Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply’s factory index was at 34.4, the least since the survey began in January 1992.

New Orders, Production

The U.S. ISM’s purchasing managers’ gauge of new orders for factories decreased to 27.9, the lowest since 1980, from 32.2 the prior month. The production measure fell to 31.5 from 34.1.

The index of prices paid dropped to 25.5, the lowest level in six decades, from 37. That adds to concern that the U.S. economy may be at risk of deflation, a sustained decline in prices and wages caused by scarce credit. Deflation can worsen a recession by making debts harder to pay and countering the effect of interest-rate cuts.

Orders from overseas continue to weaken as economies abroad contract. ISM’s export gauge was unchanged at 41, the lowest reading since records began in 1988.

 ‘Difficult Years’

We are all expecting the year 2009 to be a very low year in terms of demand, not only in the United States, but globally,” Carlos Ghosn, chief executive officer of Nissan Motor Co., said in a Nov. 19 interview on Bloomberg Television. “We may be facing a couple of difficult years, with very low demand.”

In anti-climactic moment, NBER has declared a recession in the US:

The U.S. economy entered a recession a year ago this month, the panel that dates American business cycles said today, making this contraction already the longest since 1982.

The declaration was made by a committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research, a private, nonprofit group of economists based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The last time the U.S. was in a recession was from March through November 2001, according to NBER.

 “It is clearly not going to end in a few months,” Jeffrey Frankel, a member of the NBER committee and a professor at Harvard University, said in an interview. “We would be lucky to get done with it in the middle of next year.”

The loss of 1.2 million jobs so far this year was the biggest factor in determining the starting point of the U.S. recession, the NBER said. By that measure, the contraction probably deepened last month.

At 12 months, the current contraction is already the longest since the 16-month slump that ended in November 1982, and exceeds the postwar average of 10 months.

The contraction is the second under President George W. Bush’s watch, making him the first U.S. leader since Richard Nixon to preside over two recessions.

Summers, More Action

Lawrence Summers, President-elect Barack Obama’s pick for White House economic adviser, said the economy is getting worse and requires more legislative action.

“Recent economic evidence suggests that the pace of this downturn is accelerating,” Summers said in a statement. He said Obama wants to enact a recovery package “soon after taking office.”

The likely length of this downturn may cast doubt on economists’ view that the business cycle was moderating in recent decades.

“Everyone had thought long, deep recessions were a thing of the past,” Frankel said. “There was a lot of talk of the new economy.”

More than 80 hedge funds have liquidated, restricted redemptions or segregated assets during the credit crisis so far. The reader should remember that market-size contraction is the hallmark of this crisis. Another one did so today:

Tudor Investment Corp., the firm run by Paul Tudor Jones, temporarily suspended client redemptions from the $10 billion BVI Global Fund Ltd. as it plans to split the hedge fund into two.

Tudor is proposing to put hard-to-sell investments, mostly corporate bonds and loans from emerging markets, into a new fund called Legacy, Jones said in a Nov. 28 letter to investors. BVI Global, the flagship fund Tudor started in 1986, would focus on easier-to-trade stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies.

Investors asked to pull 14 percent of their money from BVI Global as it lost 5 percent this year through November, according to the letter. That compared with an 18 percent loss through October of the Multi-Strategy Index compiled by Hedge Fund Research Inc.

Tudor, which oversees $17 billion, is asking BVI Global investors to approve the plan to split the fund in the next two months. Clients would have their money allocated between BVI Global and Legacy based on the division of assets.

Legacy will account for about 29 percent of BVI’s assets as of March 31, 2009, according to the letter. It will include emerging-market corporate credit debt, which has “ceased to be tradable,” as well as investments in private equity and hedge funds.

Emerging-markets securities have fallen as commodity prices plunged and investors shunned riskier assets on concern the global economy is entering a recession. The MSCI Emerging Markets Index has dropped 58 percent this year.

Jones, 54, told clients in August that Jim Pallotta, head of equities, is leaving to start his own firm. Pallotta will keep the Raptor Global Fund that he runs out of Boston from January. The fund lost 16.5 percent this year through Nov. 19, according to investors.

Industry Contracts

The hedge-fund industry may shrink as much as 45 percent by the end of this month to $1.1 trillion from its peak of $1.9 trillion in June because of investor redemptions and market losses, Morgan Stanley analyst Huw van Steenis said in a Nov. 24 report.

Hedge funds have posted losses averaging 22 percent this year through Nov. 24, according to Chicago-based Hedge Fund Research’s HFRX Global Hedge Fund Index.

And another one:

Highbridge Capital Management LLC, the $20 billion investment firm run by Glenn Dubin and Henry Swieca, is limiting client withdrawal requests to avoid selling assets at distressed prices, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Investors who submit withdrawal requests to the $1.9 billion Asia Opportunities Fund this quarter will get half their money by the end of January. The fund, which lost 32 percent this year through October, will return the rest within 12 to 18 months.

Highbridge, based in New York, will segregate hard-to-sell assets and sell them off over time in the hope that prices recover and clients get more money back. Firms including Tudor Investment Corp. and GLG Partners Inc. have taken similar steps in the past month.

The fund gained 18.7 percent last year, 15.4 percent in 2006 and 6.88 percent in the previous year when it was started. JPMorgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank by assets, bought a majority stake in New York-based Highbridge four years ago and increased its ownership to 78 percent in January.

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