Greg Ip

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

Archive for the ‘Consumers’ Category

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 »


Rebalancing the world economy: America: Dropping the shopping

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The original article is linked here.

By Greg Ip

Jul 23rd 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

Can America wean itself off consumption? The first of a series on how the world’s four biggest economies must change to ensure sustainable global growth


GENERAL ELECTRIC has historically been a manufacturer, but in the long boom leading up to the financial crisis it became more like a bank. Half its profit came from its finance arm, GE Capital, which among other things had a lucrative business issuing mortgages and credit cards to American consumers. GE’s chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, now talks like a man chastened. With GE Capital acting as a drag on the company, he vows that in the future finance will be a smaller part of the company. In its place GE touts its manufacturing and exporting prowess. Mr Immelt boasts of record aircraft engine orders at the Paris Air Show in June, none of them to American airlines.

Like GE, the entire American economy is at an inflection point. For decades, its growth has been led by consumer spending. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

July 23, 2009 at 1:03 pm

American consumers: Off their trolleys

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The original story is linked here.

May 7th 2009 | WASHINGTON, DC
From The Economist print edition

Consumer spending may have hit bottom, but America’s mountain of debt means the climb back up will be slow and painful

Illustration by Peter Schrank


CONFLICTING news this week from California, one of the centres of the housing bust. Just north of Los Angeles, a Texas bank was tearing down a half-built development of luxury houses that had fallen into its hands. With the market for flashy homes dead, the bank reckoned it made more financial sense to destroy them than to complete them.

Farther south, Jeffrey Mezger, boss of KB Home, a well-known LA-based home builder, was calling a bottom to his segment of the housing market. But KB Home’s secret, he said, was to sell custom-built homes that were smaller and cheaper than before, and priced to compete with a flood of cut-rate foreclosure properties. “Homes must change with the times,” he believes. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by gregip

May 7, 2009 at 3:01 pm