Merrill Lynch economists David Rosenberg and Neil Dutta have prepared a fascinating analysis comparing a number of current economic indicators with those from the late 1980s. (Hat tip to Brad Feld and Seth Levine.) You can view the report, entitled 1980s Redux?, by clicking on its title in this sentence.
Here are a few of their observations, which when combined with their startling side-by-side charts comparing the two cycles, make their point:
Inverted Yield Curve. "At the peak of the tightening cycle in the late 1980s, the Fed inverted the yield curve. It did the very same thing this time around. The yield curve leads by 5-6 quarters and was flashing economic stress signals a year-ago just as it did in the late 1980s."
Increase In Unemployment. "This expansion and the one in the late 1980s witness a dramatic tightening in labor markets and chronic shortages of skilled labor. [O]nce the unemployment rate hooks up from its low, a recession was not far behind."
Housing Market Deflation. "This cycle is also hauntingly similar to the 1980s because of what happened to the housing market. Years of massive credit extension, overbuilding and "new paradigm" thinking of housing as an asset class ultimately morphed into a massive excess inventory overhang, eroding credit quality and house price deflation. We are reliving that today, except the deflation is much broader and the credit issues far more complex and global in nature."
They also point out further similarities between the two periods, including that both had an LBO-financed M&A boom, a falling dollar, and a strong Asian stock market (then Japan, now China). These observations take on even more force when looking at their charts.
For companies, credit managers, and bankruptcy professionals trying to determine where the economy is headed, a look back to the economy of the late 1980s — which was followed by the recession of the early 1990s and a spike in Chapter 11 filings — might be a good starting point.