Image by Eifachfilm Vacirca via Flickr
By Alan Beattie and Robin Harding
A month ago, it all seemed to be going so well. Growth in the US economy was picking up. The financial system was, mainly, functioning. The risk of contagion from Europe had diminished after an unprecedented €110bn ($139bn, £91bn) bail-out from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. Things were creeping back towards normality.
Then in early June, as Alan Greenspan, former Federal Reserve chairman, put it, the economy hit “an invisible wall”. The US had a run of bad news – disappointing job growth; unexpectedly low employment; indices suggesting manufacturing and services losing momentum; renewed jitters from Europe’s sovereign debt markets and its banks. While most economists think it unlikely this heralds the famous double-dip recession feared by policymakers, it does come at a time when America’s monetary and fiscal authorities are struggling for room to manoeuvre.
In truth, there was always a risk that growth would hiccup at this point. Fiscal stimulus and companies rebuilding inventories have given the recovery a strong push start. But those are one-off effects; the recovery must now switch to power from its internal engine. “We haven’t entered into that self-sustaining stage yet,” says Gus Faucher of Moody’s Analytics, who estimates the chance of a dip back into recession at 25 per cent.
A self-sustaining recovery needs a steady rise in jobs, wages and profits that will allow a steady rise in consumption and investment, feeding back into jobs, wages and profits. So it is worrying that private payrolls rose by only 33,000 in May and 83,000 in June – not fast enough to support a rapid rise in consumption – and both average wages and hours worked have dipped a little.