The return rate on gifts and the cashing of gift cards is up considerably. Elsewhere holiday gift cards from places like Wal-Mart are increasingly being used for food purchases. Things are looking worse and worse. Roubini in Project Syndicate:
Traditionally, central banks have been the lenders of last resort, but now they are becoming the lenders of first and only resort. As banks curtail lending to each other, to other financial institutions, and to the corporate sector, central banks are becoming the only lenders around.
Likewise, with household consumption and business investment collapsing, governments will soon become the spenders of first and only resort, stimulating demand and rescuing banks, firms, and households. The long-term consequences of the resulting surge in fiscal deficits are serious. If the deficits are monetized by central banks, inflation will follow the short-term deflationary pressures; if they are financed by debt, the long-term solvency of some governments may be at stake unless medium-term fiscal discipline is restored.
Nevertheless, in the short run, very aggressive monetary and fiscal policy actions – both traditional and non-traditional – must be undertaken to ensure that the inevitable stag-deflation of 2009 does not persist into 2010 and beyond. So far, the US response appears to be more aggressive than that of the euro zone, as the European Central Bank falls behind the curve on interest rates and the EU’s fiscal stance remains weak.
Given the severity of this economic and financial crisis, financial markets will not mend for a while. The downside risks to the prices of a wide variety of risky assets (equities, corporate bonds, commodities, housing, and emerging-market asset classes) will remain until there are true signs – towards the end of 2009 – that the global economy may recover in 2010.