Layoffs: The new problem?

Across the United States and Europe there was a wave of layoff announcements this week, with more than 70,000 job cuts announced on Monday alone. Another 11,500 job cuts were announced on Tuesday, bringing the total to a little more than 200,000 layoffs announced during the first month of the year (announced layoffs January 2009). Also, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Wednesday that job losses in December 2008 associated with mass layoff events (those that involve at least 50 initial claims for unemployment insurance) were up 55 percent versus a year earlier. During January, layoffs have spread to more industries and to companies from Microsoft to Starbucks to the world’s largest manufacturer of construction equipment, Caterpillar, all of whom announced layoffs this week.

The piggybank effect

During the 2002–2007 economic expansion, the personal savings rate fell to below 1 percent of disposable income. The savings rate had declined steadily from over 12 percent in the 1980s’ recession. What changed the way people allocated their budgets?

U.S. household wealth grew considerably as home prices and the stock market soared. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Starting in the late 1990s, soaring stocks made Americans feel richer…. Savings jumped for a bit following the 2001 recession, but plummeted afterwards as housing prices rose, again making Americans feel that it wasn’t especially important to save.”

Credit storm hitting the high seas?

Now that the mystery has been solved concerning whether we are in recession or not, our attention can turn to monitoring the conditions that might signal the contraction’s end. A nice assist in this endeavor comes from the “Credit Crisis Watch” at The Big Picture, which includes an extensive list of graphs summarizing ongoing conditions in credit markets.