Sunday, February 15, 2009

The anecdotal recession (1)

Even without the media coverage, it is easy to see evidence of an economic downturn. Day to day observations can give a pretty good indication of the state of the economy. Here are some examples:

1. shipping volumes: our home has a partial view of the shipping channel into the Hong Kong container terminal. The number of empty or only partially loaded ships is very noticeable. This is a good indication that trade volumes are down;

2. taxi queues: the length of the queue for a taxi during peak hours has fallen to insignificance over the last 12 months or so. Given that a large number of the people in the queue are either directly or indirectly working in the financial industry, this is a pretty fair reflection of the state of the banking and finance industries;

3. vacant shops: we are just beginning to see more shops become vacant. One assumes that retail sales have fallen;

4. restaurant bookings: in better times, lunches at popular restaurants required a booking two weeks in advance. I can now get same day reservations and there will be plenty of empty tables making the reservation unnecessary.

None of 2, 3 or 4 have reached the state of affairs that prevailed during SARS at the end of the Asian crisis. The most noticeable difference is the shipping volumes which remained robust during the Asian crisis. This reflects the fact that this time it is different - the whole world is facing economic problems - not just Asia.

The trick is to identify the things which will indicate that the economy has turned. Some of these indicators will be evident before the economic data reflect a recovery.

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