Not A Pretty Picture

A week ago we covered some of the happenings in what has yet to be recognized as the most critical economic situation that has ever engulfed the world. Yes … you read that right.

Instead of being influenced by optimistic but badly informed prognosticators, we should take our collective heads out of the sand and admit that this unanticipated economic tailspin is unprecedented and potentially, and maybe eventually, catastrophic.

Expectations from every corner are that “things will turn around … they always do … ups and downs are cyclical,” is how they put it. But when analysts are asked the question, “How will the turnaround be effected?”, the inquisitor is greeted with shrugs and blank stares. And if asked, “Why? What caused this economic disaster?”, inane responses are forthcoming. But not to worry, they’ll say, the Fed is on top of things. A few bailouts will weed out the misfits and put us back on course.

But that isn’t the way things will play out. There’s a lot more to this crisis than the media is revealing. Here’s another recent sampling from out-of-town journals.

• “On Friday, the Florida Department of Transportation said it could not close a $ 1 billion public-private partnership deal to build a tunnel connecting the port and the Interstate Highway System because Babcock & Brown, the Australian private equity fund behind the consortium, cannot raise the necessary funding.” (American Shipper)

• “The country’s two largest port operators have deferred domestic expansion plans next year owing to the expected economic downturn, an official of state-run Philippine Ports Authority said.” (YEHEY! Finance)

• “The US Federal Reserve slashed its key interest rate to virtually zero Tuesday to counter deflation and a global financial crisis as European governments braced for deeper recession.” (YEHEY! Finance)

• “CMA CGM said it is eliminating one of its Asia/Europe services and adjusting other strings as ‘part of an effort to rationalize CMA CGM network in order to adjust to the current market demand.’” (American Shipper)

• “Australia’s Babcock & Brown Infrastructure Group, which owns stakes in maritime facilities from the United States to Italy and Finland, is reportedly mulling asset sales.” (The Journal of Commerce)

• “The Port of Seattle’s governing board voted Monday to suspend construction on a major Sea-Tac International Airport project for up to 12 months due to an inability to sell municipal bonds to cover the $ 412 million price tag.” (American Shipper)

• “In the first 11 months of 2008, Chinese shipyards reported a 44-percent drop in new orders, compared to the world average of a 37-percent decline.” (China Daily)

• “The Port of Prince Rupert is delaying the expansion of its container terminal by at least 18 months, as the global recession and its own financing woes dash hopes of breaking ground on the $ 650-million project next year.” (The Globe and Mail)

• “Posco, Asia’s third-biggest steelmaker, will cut crude steel production for the first time in its 40-year history because the global economic slowdown slashed demand from customers, including automakers.” (Bloomberg News)

• “The Port of Hong Kong, once the world’s busiest container port, saw volume in November fall 13.2 percent to 1.8 million TEUs from the same month in 2007.” (American Shipper)

• “Hot titles: How to lay up a ship — Here’s a sign of the current shape of the shipping industry: classification societies are publicizing their advice on how to lay-up ships. Germanischer-Lloyd said it has just released a guide outlining major methods and procedures involved in ship lay-ups; Seatrade Asia said last month that the U.K.’s Lloyd’s Register has also put together a guide to the process.” (American Shipper)

• “The ranks of the unemployed could rise as high as 25 million by 2010 because of the global financial and economic crisis, Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)said today.” (The Journal of Commerce)

• “General Motors fell almost 22 percent on Monday after a Credit Suisse Group analyst said stockholders may be ‘wiped out’ by the restructuring needed to win a US bailout and cut his rating to ‘underperform’.” (The Business Times)

• “The volume drop in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach this year has persuaded terminal operators in the two ports to suspend off-peak shifts on Saturdays to reduce operational costs. The ports have felt the impact of a 19 percent drop in container volume in October and November. So PierPASS, the program introduced in 2005 to add weekday night and Saturday shifts to container terminals in Southern California, will be suspended beginning Jan. 17, with the last Saturday shift on Jan. 10.” (American Shipper)

Read that last again – the part about the 19 percent drop. Now think about it. It can only mean that the demand for Asian-manufactured goods is declining faster than analysts ever dreamed possible. Cause and effect.

Now think about that for a moment. That sinking demand can only mean that U.S. shopping addicts have run out of money to spend. Cause and effect.

And U.S. shopping addicts are without money to spend because of widespread unemployment. Cause and effect. [Get the picture?]