I have been writing for almost a year that the next shoe to drop on US banks would be commercial construction lending. Today we look at some hard numbers. We look across the pond to sort out the problems in Europe. We look at the consequences of the losses stemming from Lehman. Then we look at one of the more serious consequences of the banking crisis, one that will bring the crisis home to you. Finally, we look at what the various governments of the world must do in response. It may not be fun, but it should be interesting. And it is important. Feel free to forward this letter to anyone who asks why we not only need the bailout but will need even more coordinated government action.
But first, let me offer a note of optimism before I serve up the not so good news. This is not the end of the world. There are a lot of very positive things happening in the US and the world. Companies are creating new inventions. Much of the economy, including health care, is moving along fine. I have lived through two serious recessions (1973-74 and 1980-82), and the point is that a free-market economy will find a way to eventually get back to solid growth. Recessions are simply part of the business cycle. Congress cannot repeal the business cycle. This will not be the last recession of my life. I hope to live long enough to go through 4 or 5 more.
Depressions are caused by governments making major policy mistakes. And we have made some in the areas of not regulating mortgage lending, allowing the five large investment banks to increase their leverage to 30 or 40 to one in 2004 (what was the SEC thinking?), and failing to oversee the rating agencies. That is behind us. It will make a normal recession deeper and the recovery longer, as I have been forecasting for some time.