More than two years before the housing bubble burst in 2006, economist Gary Shilling warned that subprime loans were probably "the greatest financial problem" for the future U.S. economy. In 2007 he said "housing would sink the economy," and a year after that he warned of a "serious recession" that would consume most of 2008. He was right every single time.
Now Shilling says a new recession has begun in the U.S. — in the second quarter — following on the heels of the recession in Europe. He says the current recession is different from previous ones because it wasn't caused by rising rates or another housing downturn but rather a drop in consumer spending due to a weak job market.
"We've had three consecutive months of declines in retail sales," says Shilling, president of A. Shilling & Co., an economic research and forecasting firm. "That's happened 29 times since they started collecting the data in 1947, and in 27 of the 29 we were either in a recession or within three months of it."
Shilling expects this recession will last about a year and shave about 3.5% from growth from peak to trough.
This time is different, says Shilling "because a lot of things that normally go down in a recession are already there, like housing." And policies that normally help revive the economy are absent. The Fed can't cut interest rates because they're already near zero and the housing market won't be a catalyst for growth, Shilling says.
One thing that hasn't changed, says Shilling, is the economy as the number one issue in the presidential election. Before the last presidential election Shilling said that whoever got elected then wouldn't get re-elected because the economy would still be weak with high unemployment.
Now Shilling says he'd like to see one party in control in Washington because it increases the odds of cuts for entitlements and could help "restore confidence in Washington." But even then he says it will take five to seven years to complete the deleveraging that's already underway before the economy recovers.
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