The textbooks have little to say about post-bubble economies. That makes the current prognosis all the more problematic. A profusion of asset bubbles has burst around the world – from property and credit to commodities and emerging market equities. That’s an especially rude awakening for a global economy that has become dependent on the very bubbles that are now imploding. It is as if the world has suddenly been turned inside out.
The American consumer is a case in point. Real personal consumption expenditures are on track for rare back-to-back quarterly declines in the second half of 2008, at roughly a 3.5 per cent average annual rate. Since 1950 there have been only four instances when real consumer demand fell for two consecutive quarters. Declines will exceed 3 per cent in both quarters for the first time. Never before has there been such an extraordinary capitulation of the American consumer.