The Business Bankruptcies and the Personal Bankruptcies

As stocks roll over, the economic news rolls over too.

Yesterday’s issue of USA Today featured a report that said small businesses are going broke faster than expected. Small businesses are supposed to be the survivors. Like mammals in the Ice Age, they replace the dinosaurs. In a recession, big, costly, inflexible companies are supposed to get hit the hardest…leaving niches for small, nimble, low-cost competitors to slip into. These small businesses establish toeholds during the recession…hire people…and then scale up to the peak of commerce when the boom comes.

But this time it’s different. Small businesses are collapsing along with big ones. In April, for example, more than small 8,000 businesses went broke and filed for Chapter 11.

In addition to the business bankruptcies are the personal bankruptcies. According to the Los Angeles Times, the rate of personal bankruptcy is soaring in Southern California.

In April, according to David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff, the feds added $121 million (at an annual rate) in total stimulus to the consumer economy – including tax reduction and increased benefits. In May, the total stimulus rose to $163 million. How come so many bankruptcies when the feds were giving away so much money?

The answer, says Rosenberg, is that consumers didn’t spend the money; they saved it. Consumer spending rose just $1 billion April – despite $121 billion of stimulus. In May it rose $25 billion – despite a ‘stimulus’ 6 times that amount.

Meanwhile, the saving rate, which had been only 0.2% in March of 2008 exploded to nearly 7% in May 2009.

No consumer spending, no sales. No sales, no revenues. No revenues…no one can stay in business.

No small businesses. No new jobs. No new jobs, no economic recovery.

No economic recovery and the meddlers are back on the Hill asking for more power and money.

No surprise there.


Depressions take time. Bankruptcy rates don’t rise overnight. First, it takes businesses a while to realize their sales are falling. At first, they think it might be a fluke. Then, they talk to friends and read the papers. And then, the next month confirms the story.

Then, it takes time for them to react. They have to figure out where they can make cuts. Typically, this involves layoffs and job losses. Employees who will be let go need to be identified. Then, they actually have to be sent home.

Then, the employee collects benefits. He looks for another job. He draws down savings. It takes time for him to react too. He watches. He notices that it is hard to find another job. He realizes his resources are running out. He begins to cut back. Unnecessary expenses are eliminated. Then, he broadens his definition of ‘unnecessary.’ Finally, he lacks the money for the essentials. The mortgage goes unpaid. Credit card deadlines are missed. This provokes an inevitable response – warnings, more warnings, official action, and finally…defaults, foreclosures and bankruptcy filings.

We expect unemployment and bankruptcy filings to edge up throughout the summer months. Then, by the autumn, asset prices should be going down again.

Bill Bonner
for Markets and Money

Bill Bonner

Bill Bonner

Best-selling investment author Bill Bonner is the founder and president of Agora Publishing, one of the world's most successful consumer newsletter companies. Owner of both Fleet Street Publications and MoneyWeek magazine in the UK, he is also author of the free daily e-mail Markets and Money.
Bill Bonner

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We seem to have out “millions” and “billions” mixed up here. I assume all references are to “billions”.

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