Greg Ip

Articles by The Economist’s U.S. Economics Editor

Archive for April 2010

America’s economy: Time to rebalance.

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A special report on America’s economy

Time to rebalance America’s economy is set to shift away from consumption and debt and towards exports and saving. It will be its biggest transformation in decades, says Greg Ip

Note: This is a nine-part, 14 page report. You can read the entire thing at this blog post or on The Economist’s web site here.

Mar 31st 2010 | From The Economist print edition 

STEVE HILTON remembers months of despair after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Customers rushed to the sales offices of Meritage Homes, the property firm Mr Hilton runs, not to buy houses but to cancel contracts they had already signed. “I thought for a moment the world was coming to an end,” he recalls. 

In the following months Mr Hilton stepped up efforts to save his company. He gave up options to buy thousands of lots that the firm had snapped up across Arizona, Florida, Nevada and California during the boom, taking massive losses. He eventually laid off three-quarters of its 2,300 employees. He also had its houses completely redesigned to cut construction cost almost in half: simpler roofs, standardised window sizes, fewer options. Gone were the 12-foot ceilings, sweeping staircases and granite countertops everyone wanted when money was free. Meritage is now catering to the only customers able to get credit: first-time buyers with federally guaranteed loans. It is clawing its way back to health as a leaner, humbler company. 

The same could be said for America. Virtually every industry has shed jobs in the past two years, but those that cater mostly to consumers have suffered most. Employment in residential construction and carmaking is down by almost a third, in retailing and banking by 8%. As the economy recovers, some of those jobs will come back, but many of them will not, because this was no ordinary recession. The bubbly asset prices, ever easier credit and cheap oil that fuelled America’s age of consumerism are not about to return. 

Instead, America’s economy will undergo one of its biggest transformations in decades. This macroeconomic shift from debt and consumption to saving and exports will bring microeconomic changes too: different lifestyles, and different jobs in different places. This special report will describe that transformation, and explain why it will be tricky.  Read the rest of this entry »

America’s economy: Hope at last

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 The world’s biggest economy has begun a much-needed transition. Barack Obama could do more to help

Mar 31st 2010 | From The Economist print edition

[Greg Ip] GREAT storms and floods have a way of altering landscapes. Once the waters recede, some of the changes are obvious: uprooted trees, damaged property, wrecked roads. Later come further changes, as people seek to avoid a repeat, erecting new flood walls or rebuilding elsewhere.

As in the physical world, so in the economic one. The financial deluge that broke over America has passed and the recession it caused, the worst since the 1930s, is ebbing. This year the American economy is expected to grow by around 3%, after shrinking by 2.4% in 2009. Rainbow-spotters hope that employment is at last beginning to grow again. And the economy emerging from recession is not the same as the one that went in. There is obvious damage: high unemployment, millions of foreclosed homes and a huge hole in the public finances. Less obviously, a “rebalancing” is under way: from consumption, housing and debt to exports, investment and saving. As our special report this week argues, this is enormously promising for America and the world; but it is far from assured. A lot depends on politicians—and not just the ones in Washington. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

April 1, 2010 at 4:00 pm

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The truth hurts: Will the Treasury call China a currency manipulator?

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Mar 31st 2010 | WASHINGTON, DC | From The Economist print edition

[Greg Ip] TO MOST people, to say that China holds down the value of its currency to boost its exports is to state the obvious. Not, though, to America’s Treasury Department. By law it must report twice a year on which countries fiddle their exchange rates at the world’s expense. China was last fingered in 1994. Ever since then, the Treasury has concluded that the designation would do more harm than good. Speculation is growing that it may decide differently in its next report, due on April 15th. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

April 1, 2010 at 3:00 pm

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