On September 15, 2008, John McCain said, “the fundamentals of our economy are strong.” The Lehman collapse was in progress, and all of Wall Street was feeling intense anxiety, so there were many warning signs of economic trouble ahead. Having said, that, the unemployment rate then was 6.1 percent.
Nonetheless, the Obama campaign saw an opportunity, and pounced:
CEOs from General Motors Co. (GM) to Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) to Manpower Inc. say they are concerned about the health of the U.S. economy. While economists predict a continuing expansion this year and next, executives see a mounting number of obstacles that could clip growth.
U.S. employers added the fewest number of workers to their payrolls in a year last month, while companies including Tiffany & Co. (TIF) and mattress maker Tempur-Pedic International Inc. (TPX) cut their full-year forecasts. European policy makers are also struggling to resolve a crisis that has tipped at least eight of the 17 euro-area economies into recession. The U.S. presidential election is another area of concern, CEOs said.
“There are so many uncertainties,” said Jeffrey Joerres, CEO of Manpower (MAN), the Milwaukee-based provider of temporary workers. “If these uncertainties keep stacking up and none get resolved, we’ll see a hiring pause rather than the current slowdown.”
Supervalu Inc. (SVU)’s Albertsons grocery store chain said this week it will cut as many as 2,500 jobs. Hewlett-Packard has announced the biggest round of job cuts out of any U.S. company this year, at 27,000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“The economy seems to be just sort of bouncing along,” Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman said in an interview this week. “It doesn’t seem to be getting significantly better.”
Employment concerns, coupled with sinking housing prices, have made U.S. consumers reluctant to undertake big-ticket home renovations, said Lowe’s Cos. Chairman and CEO Robert Niblock. Lowe’s, the second-biggest U.S. home-improvement retailer after Home Depot Inc. (HD), is eliminating more than 500 corporate positions through voluntary buyouts this year after cutting 1,700 store management jobs in 2011.
The Obama campaign asked, “How can McCain fix our economy if he doesn’t know it’s broken?” That question sure sounds relevant to the president today.