Business Update with Mark Lacter

The impact of the partial federal government shutdown on Los Angeles

The partial federal government shutdown is one week old, but economists are still saying that its impact in Southern California and elsewhere will be limited.

Susanne Whatley: Business analyst Mark Lacter, why is that?

Mark Lacter: If you look back on the history of these things, Susanne, you see that the disputes are resolved before too much damage gets done.  As for Southern California, I notice that KPCC's Alice Walton was asking around over the weekend about the shutdown, and most folks gave it a shrug.  The regional economy is just too diversified - and not especially tied to federal employment.  You have about 46,000 federal workers employed in L.A. County in one capacity or another - that's out of a workforce of nearly 5 million.  And, now it appears as if the federal employees who have been furloughed are going to receive their back wages whenever the shutdown finally ends.

Whatley: That still might make things dicey when it comes time to pay the monthly mortgage...

Lacter: ...but at least money will be available before most folks run into serious liquidity issues.  That's what the shutdown really comes down to - inconvenience rather than dislocation.  And, you see this with the various government services affected: the E-Verify website is down - that lets business owners know whether the people they're wanting to hire can work legally in the U.S., which obviously is important.  The Small Business Administration has stopped processing loan applications, and the Federal Housing Administration is reporting delays in its loan processing, which could mean a home buyer might not complete his or her paperwork all that quickly.

Whatley: But, what if this were to go on for months?

Lacter: Well, then it would create problems, but nobody really thinks that's going to happen.  The real issue, not just nationally and regionally - but globally - is the refusal by Congress to raise the debt ceiling.  The deadline is a week from Thursday, and - of course - there's been all sorts of debate about what this would mean for the economy.

Whatley: All right, so what would this mean for the economy?

Lacter: Well, no one knows exactly.  But, then again, no one knows exactly what would happen if you fell out of a airplane without a parachute.  I just wouldn't want to test it out.  And, of course, let's keep in mind that these are manufactured crises - not reflective of anything that's going on with the real economy.  It's certainly not reflective of anything that's going on in L.A., which saw a big jump in payroll jobs for 2012 - actually it was the sharpest increase since 2005, and nearly double the national rate (that's despite an unemployment rate that remains very high in certain parts of Los Angeles).

Whatley: What about some of the big locally based companies?

Lacter: Well, if your company is publicly traded, there's a good chance your shares took a dip these past few days.  Going back to September 18, the Dow has lost almost 700 points, which - percentage-wise - is not very much, but it is reflective of how uneasy Wall Street has become.  Public companies based in the L.A. area are taking it on the chin - Disney, Amgen, Mattel, DirecTV - their stock prices are all down going back to the middle of September.

Whatley: Even so, hasn't this been a good year for the stock market?

Lacter: It has - those local companies are up anywhere from 13 percent 30 percent year to date, and the Dow is up 14 percent year to date.  Of course, the stock price of a company doesn't always match the amount of money it makes, and this year, even before worries about the debt ceiling, the numbers haven't been as good as they should be at this stage of a recovery.  And, that's why there's particular concern about next week.  You do have to wonder whether a default could have ripple effects involving trade, consumer spending, the dollar - who knows what?  Now, it's still a pretty good bet that saner heads will prevail, although there are no guarantees - and again, if worse came to worse, do you really want to be jumping out of that plane?  Guess we'll find out.

Mark Lacter writes for Los Angeles Magazine and pens the business blog at LA Observed.com.


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