Yesterday I met people in the West Midlands, to take the temperature of manufacturing.
The sound of very little going on was eerie. My journey to and from by the M40 was all too easy. The inadequate roads were for once more than adequate for the reduced traffic. The Birmingham ringway gave me unusually free passage around the conurbation.There was a worrying quiet about the place.
The mood was of one of people waiting for the news to get worse in the new year. The crisis which hit sixteen months ago in the City of London, once a remote matter affecting people on high salaries in high finance, is now all too real. Orders have contracted, some lay offs and a lot of short time working have already been announced.
There is a worrying expectation that as the world’s factories close for extended Christmas and New Year breaks, to contract output in line with much lower demand, so there will be knock on effects throughout manufacturing. Today maunfacturing is global. Cuts in one country soon transmit to cuts elsewhere.
Even migthy China is now experiencing a savage downturn in parts of her manufacturing heartlands, as the much reduced demand for Chinese goods in the west hits a country which has been such a successful exporter that she has $2 trillion in the bank.
I wanted good news to tell them, something to raise spirits. All I could say was the US authorities, somewhat late, are now doing everything they can think of to try to turn their economy around. Let us hope something works soon. It is like watching someone in front of a huge board of electricity switches in a dark room trying every switch, but so far none turn the lights on. We just keep hoping the board is still connected to some power.