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Nouriel Roubini: We're entering new recession, issue is how deep

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Three years on It was three years ago today that Lehman Bros. collapsed, spinning the world into a crisis the likes of which had not been seen in decades. Three years later, any respite appears to have been brief.

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The U.S. economy remains weak, and is likely to drag Canada with it. In Europe, the recovery is grinding to a halt as austerity measures meant to solve the continent's debt troubles help cripple the economy. There are riots in the streets of many European cities. Foreclosures are rising in the United States, where one in six is impoverished. Long-term unemployment is a blight the world over, with almost 1.4 million people out of work in Canada alone and warnings today from the OECD that governments need to act.

On this, the third anniversary of the death of Lehman, the European Commission warned that the economies of the 17-member euro zone are stalling, with growth in the third quarter of 0.2 per cent giving way to 0.1 per cent in the final three months of the year.

"This requires steadfast continuation of the strategy of differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation and the implementation of the decisions to support financial stability," said Oli Rehn, the EU monetary affairs commissioner.

And therein lies the problem: "Growth-friendly fiscal consolidation" is oft-stated and oft-ignored as politicians and markets demand ever greater cutbacks to help cope with swollen debts in countries such as Greece, Italy, Ireland and Portugal.

Getting people back to work is proving ever more difficult as governments trim their public services and companies lack the confidence to hire amid such global uncertainty.

Indeed, the Organization for Economic Co-ordination and Development that growth in labour markets will remain weak. In Canada, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant reports, the jobs market is in better shape than those of many other countries, but young people and workers with lesser skills are still in trouble.

Just today, the U.S. Labor Department reported that first-time claims for jobless benefits climbed last week by 11,000, hitting 428,000 or the highest in about two months. That was much worse than expected.

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Some of today's numbers are troubling, and the co-ordinated action of five major central banks this morning illustrate the angst of the markets.

Toronto-Dominion Bank and others peg the chance of another recession at 40 per cent.

Nouriel Roubini, the New York University professor who forecast the financial crisis, went further today, warning that "we are entering a recession." The question isn't whether there will be a double-dip, he said on Twitter, but rather how deep it will be.

And the answer, added the chairman and co-founder of Roubini Global Economics, depends on the response of policy makers and developments in the euro zone's ongoing crisis.

Central banks rush to Europe's aid The world's major central banks are trying to chase fear out of global financial markets, pledging to ensure Europe's stressed banks have access to dollars.

The co-ordinated move involves the European Central Bank, the Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, Bank of England and Swiss National Bank, The Globe and Mail's Kevin Carmichael reports.

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Next month, the ECB will loan U.S. dollars for three months, a duration that is suitably long to provide certainty that banks will have access to enough of the world's reserve currency to settle their accounts.

"It's the biggest intervention since the co-ordinated rate cut by various central banks in October 2008, and comes on the three-year anniversary of the demise of Lehman Brothers," said David Jones, chief market strategist at IG Index.

"Although it has lifted markets in the short-term the next few days will be telling to see if investors feel that it is more a pre-emptive strike in an attempt to slow down the crisis in the short-term, without actually offering a real solution."

RIM earnings plunge Research In Motion plunged in after-hours trading today after the BlackBerry maker disappointed markets with its second-quarter results.

RIM posted revenue of $4.2-billion (U.S.) for the quarter ended Aug. 27, down 10 per cent from the same quarter last year, The Globe and Mail's Omar El Akkad reports. Profit fell to $439-million or 63 cents a share from $797-million or $1.46.

"Overall unit shipments in the quarter were slightly below our forecast due to lower than expected demand for older models," Jim Balsillie, RIM's co-CEO, said in a statement. "We will continue to build on the success of the BlackBerry 7 launch to drive the business as we focus our development efforts on delivering the next generation, QNX-based mobile platform next year."

During the quarter, RIM shipped about 200,000 PlayBook tablets. Many analysts were expecting more than double that number.

UBS hit by rogue trades We haven't had a good rogue trade scandal in a while, but UBS AG has changed all that.

The giant Swiss financial group said today that that a trader in its investment bank lost an estimated $2-billion in authorized trades, and London police said they arrested a 31-year-old man in connection with the loss this morning.

UBS didn't say much, issuing a short statement saying that the trading losses could mean a third-quarter loss, and that no client positions were affected. The bank's shares sank after the announcement.

Canada's housing market tame Sales of existing homes in Canada dipped 0.5 per cent in August, and prices 0.6 per cent, though both measures are still well up from last year.

But it's in comparison to a weak showing a year ago, economists said, noting that sales are down 5 per cent so far this year. And, noted Robert Kavcic of BMO Nesbitt Burns, the "upward push" from pricey sales in Vancouver and Toronto appears to be easing.

"A combination of the recent slowdown in economic activity (culminating in the first contraction in output since early 2009), the recent implementation of new mortgage lending rules in March, and the high level of household indebtedness has been instrumental in slowing housing activity since the beginning of the year," said Toronto-Dominion Bank economist Francis Fong.

"And looking ahead, less favourable economic fundamentals and heightened financial uncertainty are likely to take more wind out of the market's sails," he said in a report.

"Ultimately, TD Economics expects a peak-to-trough decline in both home sales and prices of roughly 10 per cent from current levels. However, the outlook for interest rates is critical to the timing of this adjustment. TD Economics anticipates the Bank of Canada to remain on hold until the first quarter of 2013."

That trough is expected to be sometime in 2013, he added.

When you put it all in perspective, Canada's housing market is holding up well in the face of global turbulence.

"Canadian housing remains steady and healthy despite dimming global growth prospects and a sharp drop in consumer confidence," said Mr. Kavcic. "Extremely low interest rates appear to be just the medicine as Canadians continue to borrow, and a number of the banks lowered their five-year fixed rates again in recent days, which could continue to lend support."

Factory sales rise Canada's factories staged a rebound in July after three straight months of losses.

Manufacturing sales climbed 2.7 per cent in the month, driven largely by a strong showing in Ontario, Statistics Canada said today. But sales were only up in 15 of 21 industries measured, though they still represented 75 per cent of the sector.

"Sales in the petroleum and coal products industry increased 6.1 per cent in July to $6.2-billion," the federal agency said. "The gain mostly reflected higher volumes, as some refineries ramped up production following maintenance work and retooling in June. The primary metal industry reported a 7.6-per-cent increase in sales to $4.3-billion, as production rose at some plants following maintenance shutdowns in June. Sales in the industry have advanced steadily since June 2009. Sales in July were at their highest level since October 2008."

Inventory levels dipped 0.1 per cent, for the first drop since September of last year, while unfilled orders rose 2.2 per cent to their highest since April, 2009.

Today's numbers add to expectations that economic growth is picking up somewhat in the second half of the year, said economist Leslie Preston at Toronto-Dominion Bank, but challenges remain.

"A weak profile for economic growth among Canada's key trading partners, in combination with a lofty loonie will continue to be a challenge for Canadian manufacturers," she said. "Those significant headwinds underscore the case for the Bank of Canada to keep interest rates at very stimulative levels for quite some time."

Little to fear from U.S. inflation Consumer prices in the United States rose 0.4 per cent last month, pushed up by energy and food costs, a bit faster than expected though slower than July's 0.5 per cent.

But, the U.S. Labor Department said, so-called core prices that exclude volatile goods, climbed 0.2 per cent, leaving little in the way of inflation for the Federal Reserve to worry about.

On an annual basis, inflation came in at 3.8 per cent.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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