California: Canary in the Economic Coal Mine

A piece tonight in the WSJ is painful reading about what is happening in California, the state first and most severely struck by the subprime credit crisis. There is the odd glimmer of light — like that San Diego real estate shows signs of bottoming — but it is  mostly bleak stuff.

With its export businesses, manufacturing sector, professional services and big retail employers, California looks like many other U.S. states, only more so. California’s $1.8 trillion economy — twice the size of India’s and accounting for about 15% of the U.S. gross domestic product — is powerful enough to have ripple effects nationally. It is home to Hollywood, five of 30 Major League Baseball franchises and the largest farming sector in the nation.

California was also at the leading edge of the nation’s recent housing bubble, which is where its current problems started. Home prices in California rose higher and faster than in most of the U.S., and started weakening earlier, in 2005. Some mortgage-holders defaulted. Others struggle along under a mountain of debt. The problems spread to the state’s financial sector, which was heavily exposed to local real estate. As Californians cut their spending, job losses spread from the housing sector to retail stores and auto dealers. Now the state’s unemployment rate is 7.7%, among the highest in the nation.

More here.

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