Look ahead to summer — and its hottest economic spots
We're on the other side of the Great Recession, but troubled areas remain.
Special to The Seattle Times
Memorial Day marks the symbolic start of summer and this is the sixth straight summer of anxiety in the economy.
To be sure, things are better than the summer of 2007, when it became clear that the housing bubble's pop was turning into a dangerous banking crisis. The Great Recession was knocking.
Now a genuine bottom seems in sight for residential real estate. While some regions may rattle along there for years, parts of the Seattle area are recovering smartly and prices are expected to follow next year. The summer buying season might actually bring some joy.
Another favorable sign is the diminished war rhetoric in the Middle East. This could change quickly, but predictions of an Israeli strike on Iran this summer, and the resulting oil disruption, are looking less likely.
Still, the next three months carry baggage of risk and uncertainty that one wouldn't associate with any normal economic recovery.
Chief among them is the eurozone disaster. Greece is really the sideshow. This small nation has essentially already defaulted on its debt and will likely leave the currency union.
The main event is the continental banking crisis, sovereign debt that can never be repaid under current circumstances, the failure of austerity measures and the dearth of statesmanship.
As trade authority Clyde Prestowitz noted on his blog last week, "The European Union was never conceived of as primarily an economic project. From the start it has always been fundamentally a political project aimed at uniting Europe, smothering its insecurities and jealousies, and preventing for all time any more suicidal European civil wars."
Leaders in 1989 didn't dicker over the cost of German reunification.
All this is now at risk. In the economic arena, the big danger is a shattering of the 17-nation eurozone, with substantial probability of contagion to the U.S. financial system.
Even if the Europeans dither along through the hot months, the consequences are happening now. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that the eurozone is on the edge of falling into a severe recession.
That hits Washington, one of America's most trade-dependent states, two ways. First, with falling demand for our products from Europe. Second, and more profoundly, the recessions already dragging down European nations are aggravating a slowdown in China, Washington's largest export destination.
Chinese-economic indicators, from investment and industrial production to bank lending, are already coming in significantly lower than expected. Beijing is distracted with the Communist Party leadership transition and the widening scandal involving former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.
Facing inflation dangers and a real-estate bust, China lacks the means to push through another massive, infrastructure-driven stimulus. So here we are, living in interesting times.
China's big debtor — that would be us — faces a hazy summer. One big question will be whether gross domestic product growth slows further in the second quarter. If so, many more jobs will be on the line than President Obama's.
Even with the Puget Sound area's relatively robust economy, Washington actually lost 300 jobs in April. If that continues into the summer, and is matched by weak job creation nationwide, we stand little chance of providing work for 12.7 million unemployed or growing out of our fiscal troubles.
This is the big tourism season for Seattle, too. Things have to be better than they were at the worst of the Great Recession, but who knows how many people will have the disposable income to travel.
Gas prices are still relatively high, too, even though oil prices have fallen based on Europe's slowdown and diminished fears of conflict over Iran. Don't count on much relief at the pump. Refinery capacity is tight and oil companies know you'll pay anyway.
As temperatures rise so may the heat on JPMorgan Chase over its multibillion-dollar loss on a trading bet. I don't expect much from a Congress that depends on banking money for campaign contributions, but the Securities and Exchange Commission has opened an investigation. Shareholders can't be happy. It is also a reminder of how risky the banking system remains.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, Facebook's face plant will likely be a summer confection for people who also like to rubberneck at auto accidents. The company's underwriters are facing investigations over the initial public offering. And it can't signal a lively appetite for other IPOs.
The social network called new college graduates faces a grim job market this summer. Average earnings are down 15 percent for 25- to 34-year-olds with a bachelor's degree since 2000. Meanwhile, average student-loan debt is up by 24 percent.
The election campaign nearly ensures that nothing will be done to help the economy beyond its halting, fragile recovery. So enjoy the sun and hope we don't get burned.
You may reach Jon Talton at email@example.com. On Twitter @jontalton.
About Jon Talton
Jon Talton comments on economic trends and turning points, putting them into context with people, place and the environment in the Pacific Northwest