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Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Few Weeks Later: Did the Debt Downgrade Matter?

Well, we've had a bit more time to analyze the situation since the S&P downgrade of the U.S.'s credit rating.  Did it impact interest rates? Yes, but not how it was expected.

Ten year treasury rates have dropped off a cliff and are now well below the year on year change in CPI (3.6%).

Granted, this isn't the best measure of "real" interest rates, but it does give some sense of where we are now. This has actually gotten more extreme in August where we would be in near historic territory, except for the few blips in the 1970s where there were peculiar alignments of inflation rates and interest rates for brief periods.  It's clear that we have not seen any increase in real rates and don't seem to be near it either. 

Once again, all of the devastation has been in the equity markets.  As I said earlier this month, we would have a brief period of stabilization before a resumption of the fall.  We followed that traditional pattern and appear to be on another down leg.

At this point, it seems quite likely that we will see more difficult days ahead, but not because of a debt-induced panic.  Rather the issue is that growth prospects have utterly and decisively collapsed at this point.  The Philly Fed Index this last week was an utter disaster.  At over -30 (or under depending on how you look at it), it is at a level that has never failed to be associated with recession.  Once again, the threat is deflation and stagnation. 

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