As markets continue to produce signs of stabilization over the next quarter, it is unlikely that unemployment figures will show much improvement. With figures the highest they have been in more than 25 years, unemployment appears to have neared its peak. Lowering the rate to levels our economy can adequately support will prove to be a daunting task. But, with a little encouragement the corporate sector certainly has the power to handle it.
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was quoted by multiple major news sources after he told the Brookings Institute, “The recession is likely over at this point.” According to Bernanke, the economy appears to be growing, but not at a pace that will be sufficient for lowering the unemployment rate. Historically, economic upturns after recessions have been stamped with consumer demand. This time around, however, many Americans may not have the ability to help lead a recovery because they have been completely wiped out financially.
In order to spur consumer-led demand, the corporate sector will again have to make jobs readily available. The unemployed are not the kind of consumers that are needed to invigorate our economy and induce growth. We do not need to turn to an economics textbook to tell us that our broken economic cycle can be patched with more available jobs—this much we know.
Corporations large and small have been forced to adapt to this constricted economy and the majority of them were required to do so through downsizing. Now, company leaders are reluctant to increase their workforce until they are confident there is a significant increase in demand for their products and services. But, one strong possibility that could provide the encouragement needed to get company leaders hiring again is a temporary change in corporate tax policy.
A temporary tax break aimed at equaling the payroll costs of adding new employees would strip the risk for companies that are awaiting a full-blown recovery before they hire. Plus, according to a recent article published in The Wall Street Journal:
“The impact of a two-year program on the federal deficit would be relatively modest. Using a conservative set of assumptions, an $18 billion annual program, which represents 10% of estimated corporate tax receipts in the next fiscal year could create nearly 600,000 good-paying jobs …”
Before they commit to hiring, companies are waiting for consumers to spend. But, before consumers commit to spending, they are waiting for companies to hire. The cycle is stagnant and will remain so until one side is persuaded to change their behavior. A government-sponsored tax break for companies that agree to hire could be the first action taken during this recession that encourages our country’s government, companies and individuals to work together.
Capital River is Frozen; We Can Thaw it
Because of the severe impact of the recession, the stream of capital that once flooded our economy has been reduced to a trickle. The majority of the flow evaporated when banks were forced by the Fed to tighten their lending standards as delinquent loans polluted their books. Consequently, failing to restore the flow is making it extremely difficult for the Fed to take progressive measures toward recovery and has the potential to drop us back into another recession.
According to Bloomberg.com:
“The Fed’s second-quarter survey of senior loan officers, released Aug. 17, showed U.S. banks tightened standards on all types of loans and said they expect to maintain strict criteria on lending until at least the second half of 2010.”
With dropping values in commercial real estate, rising unemployment numbers and a seemingly unending onslaught of delinquent mortgages; banks are not lacking reasons to practice strict lending measures. Earlier this year, through a series of stress tests, the Fed found that 19 of the country’s largest banks needed $75 billion in new capital to protect themselves from mounting losses.
With all of my recent writings and blog postings concerning the benefits of getting our private capital back in the game, I am by no means hiding my agenda for restoring capital flow. The economy will only be repaired once the flow of capital is rejuvenated. It is much easier to lead capital tributaries back into the main stream if they are first flowing. Over the next couple of quarters, banks will continue to deleverage and work toward a balanced lending system. But, without raising more private capital, banks will not be able to establish a lending system that enables credit-worthy individuals and businesses to acquire reasonable loans; which puts an enormous restraint on economic progress.
Our economy is already positioned to attempt to force a jobless recovery, which will certainly create complications in sustaining a recovery. Trying to force a credit-less recovery will only exacerbate our struggles. Dragging our banks through a painful recovery without sufficient capital will only position them to break and lead us right back through more of the same. By identifying ways to put our private capital back into the equation we are positioning our financial system to rise from this recession stronger and more efficient. By investing in private enterprise, we are sparking long-term, mutually-beneficial relationships between capital-producing businesses and banks (while also earning gracious returns on our initial investments). Now is the time to put our private capital back to work.
Without Our Capital, Banks Get the Axe
Our private capital plays an integral part in our local economies—which then all collectively have crucial roles in our country’s financial stability. Because banks have become over-reliant on easy credit, they are now struggling to keep their businesses running by raising capital the old fashioned way. Without our capital, our banks (and more importantly our communities) cannot function properly. Not able to fulfill their debt obligations, banks are closing their doors and falling under the control of the FDIC; which “estimates bank failures will cost the fund about $70 billion through 2013.”
Banks are necessary to ensure that money circulates in our communities. They distribute the money of their depositors to borrowers who have a worthwhile purpose for the money. The banks secure our savings and lend the money to companies or individuals. Banks provide a convenient location for borrowers to acquire funds. Without banks, companies would find it very difficult to borrow large sums of money.
While banks perform their role as intermediaries, they also essentially increase the supply of money. By accepting deposits from its customers and loaning the money to worthy borrowers, banks “create” money. Consider the following simple example. Imagine a customer deposits $20,000 into her bank account. Even though the bills are no longer in circulation, the amount of money in our country does not change as a result of the deposit. Allowing the money to simply sit in the bank’s safe would not earn the bank anything. Therefore, the bank lends $10,000 to an entrepreneur in return for an additional interest fee. The depositor still has a $20,000 credit in her account and the entrepreneur has $10,000, therefore the money supply has increased by $10,000. The entrepreneur purchases supplies with the money and creates a product that he sells for a profit. As long as banks have depositors, they are able play their crucial role of increasing the money supply by making funds available to those looking to find backing for their ventures.
The word “bank” itself is derived from the Italian word “banca,” which referred to the table on which coins were counted and exchanged in the middle ages. “Bancarotta,” from which the word “bankrupt” was derived, means “broken bank.” Originally, if a banker was unable to pay his debts, the authorities arrived to smash his table in half with an axe. Today, the FDIC seizes failed banks and seeks buyers for their branches, deposits and faulty loans—all, for some reason, without smashing anything with an axe.
All my best,
Thomas J. Powell
 See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32858855/ns/business-economy_in_turmoil/
 See http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204518504574416992816628538.html
 See http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601103&sid=aXoR8yGykreQ