Crowley declares recession over

Mornings are chilly, cherries are already out of season and its dark by 8 p.m. — yes, it’s that time of year again.

Time for a sneak preview of the Southern Colorado Economic Forum, that is.

(If you thought I’d say something cliché about the “crisp feel of autumn in the air,” then you don’t read this column often enough.)

Fred Crowley, senior economist for the SCEF, provided a pre-forum insight about the local, national and international economies during the latest Entrepreneurial Corner at BiggsKofford P.C.

So, Crowley said, the recession is over — but, just because it’s over doesn’t mean there won’t be “serious, nagging issues out there for at least 12 to 18 months.”

And, of course, the National Bureau of Economic Research won’t officially declare the recession to be over until about a year from now.

“They take their time,” Crowley joked. “Well, they could wait 50 years and then they’d know for sure.”

Domestically, locally and internationally, we’ve bottomed out, he said.

“At the national level, I think we’ll find the recession ended during the third quarter of 2009.”

But now it’s time for facts, figures and other alarming statistics.

Loan loss reserves — money that banks set aside to cover loan delinquencies — are skyrocketing.

Which being interpreted means that the subprime mortgage and credit card crises are not over yet, and banks are anticipating more foreclosures and charge-offs.

Speaking of which, commercial loan charge-offs are (ahem, excuse the cliché) soaring to new heights.

Therefore, “large (not community) banks are losing money and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is this close to insolvency, with the increase to $250,000 in insurance and 77 banks failing this year,” Crowley said. “As a group, banks are not lending. Individual banks may be lending, but, generally, not only are they decreasing their commercial loans, but they’re in negative territory. They’re not lending no matter what they say.

“Banks say we’ve already turned down the consumers for loans — so you business owners don’t need loans because the consumers aren’t coming in to buy anything anyway,” he said, much to the audience’s amusement.

Virtually every business sector is being denied loans, although some individual businesses are able to obtain loans if they have incredible balance sheets — “ but not without having a wisdom tooth pulled along the way.”

Net loan losses — “the loans that went bad as a percentage of all loans” — are higher than they were during 1991. And the more money banks and financial institutions have to “put aside to cover bad loans, the less there is to loan,” Crowley said.

Perhaps some good news is in order.

The four-week moving average of initial claims for unemployment insurance is substantially down. And the Purchasing Managers Index Composite Index has increased, so buyers in the industry are “feeling a whole lot less pessimistic than they were several months ago.”

And manufacturers’ new orders for durable goods are starting to uptick, which pleases Crowley more than the measure of industrial orders — because “it tends to be more of a leading indicator” of economic recovery.

Hmm … seems that’s a statistic nearly everyone can applaud.

The personal savings rate “tends to increase during a recession,” and true to form it has. “Savings numbers are suggesting that you have to save to spend,” he said.

Meaning, “an incredible down payment capacity — for cars, fridges, hot water heaters, etc. — has been built into the system over the past year.”

As for El Paso County, home prices did drop, “but demand is improving, and people are actually now being able to sell their homes. And — that happened before all the troops arrived,” Crowley said. “We might be looking at 1,500 to 2,000 housing unit demands from the 3,500 new troops still to arrive. About 60 percent of troops buy homes when they relocate — however this takes 12 to 18 months.”

(If that seems like an economic eternity, there is an immediate impact when new troops arrive.)

“Retail is an overnight increase,” he said.

Then Crowley was so bold — as he is wont to be — as to declare precisely on which day the local recession ended: “March 15, for lack of a better date.” He hastily corrected himself, lapsing into an Irish accent — “No, it was March 17, St. Patty’s Day.”

After gleefully abiding Crowley’s quirky brand of humor during the presentation, attendees were treated to the requisite annual photos of recent ventures to Yellowstone National Park. He’s not a bad photographer for an economist.

Snapshots included an osprey in flight with a fish in its claws, grizzlies foraging for huckleberries and a stunning close-up of a bald eagle.

Nice work, Fred.

Rebecca Tonn covers banking and finance for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.