Brace for the next wave of economic pain

    "Do you ever get the sinking feeling that America’s economic infrastructure is crumbling around us? Among other things, 2008 may go down in history as the year of the taxpayer bailout. And when it’s all said and done, us taxpayers may be holding the bag for damages done to America’s banking system, its housing market, its automotive sector and its airline industry … So, here we are. Us taxpayers are bailing out our banks and propping up our housing market. Mortgage foreclosures are skyrocketing. Unemployment and inflation are on the rise. Retailers are closing stores. And the clock is ticking on our automakers and our airlines. But faced with wars on two fronts, and no end in sight, how much deeper into debt can this country go? Strapped with $4 gasoline and rising food costs, how much more debt can American households incur? Buckle up. We’ve surely got more turbulence ahead."

    I wrote those words in a Milwaukee Biz Blog on July 24. They echoed the cover story of last January’s special Economic Trends edition of SBT, headlined, "Teetering on the brink."

    Depending upon your perspective, that blog and the other stories either prove the "even a blind squirrel finds a nut" theory or that we were ahead of the curve.

    Either way, I wish we had been wrong.

    And I tell you right now, there will be more turbulence ahead, and we have not yet struck bottom in this frightening economic downturn.

    The next things to keep your eyes on are regional banks and the hedge fund market.

    There is a lot more toxic debt yet to be written off by our banks. I’m talking about defaulted car loans, unpaid credit card accounts and home equity lines held by over-extended consumers.

    When the banks finally do account for these bad loans on their balance sheets, their stocks will fall. Again. And some won’t get up.

    Similarly, some hedge funds may be in trouble, and they’ll take down their investors with them.

    No less a source than Steve Forbes said this week that the American economy is in "cardiac arrest." Forbes said the No. 1 factor that led to this crisis was the excessive expansion of the money supply by the Federal Reserve Bank beginning in 2004.

    Indeed, history will show that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan not only did not see the housing bubble coming, but that he and his successor, Ben Bernanke, failed to take action to prevent the collapse of America’s largest investment banks.

    Here’s one other prediction. It took a long time for us to get into this mess. It will take a long time for us to crawl out. And we won’t crawl out until the American middle class is restored. It’s the middle class that has always driven this economy.

    May God help the next president, whomever he may be.

    Well, we can’t just sit and stew in it. We must charge ahead, regardless. I invite you to attend an upcoming panel discussion featuring financial experts who will assess the U.S. economy and provide insights for investors at a Newsmaker Luncheon to be presented by the Milwaukee Press Club.

    The Newsmaker Luncheon will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 8, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Newsroom Pub in downtown Milwaukee, 137 E. Wells St.

    The experts on the panel will include:

    • Michael Sadoff, investment advisor at Sadoff Investment Management LLC, Milwaukee.
    • Michelle Picard, vice president and principal at Geneva Capital Management Ltd.
    • William McGinnis, a Chartered Financial Analyst and founder of W. McGinnis Advisors LLC in Milwaukee.

    The panelists will discuss the factors that led to the American financial crisis, the policies needed to revive the economy and the most prudent strategies for investors in this turbulent time.

    The Press Club presents the Newsmaker Luncheons monthly to shed light on issues of the day. The public is invited to attend the luncheons. The cost to attend is $15 for MPC members, $20 for non-members, $10 for students. Lunch is included. Pre-registration and advance payment is required and may be done online at www.milwaukeepressclub.org.

    Steve Jagler is executive editor of Small Business Times.

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