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Jon Talton

Analysis and commentary on economic news, trends and issues, with an emphasis on Seattle and the Northwest.

May 5, 2009 at 9:55 AM

Microsoft layoffs send mixed message for Seattle economy

Top of the News: The rumors turned out to be correct — Microsoft said today it would begin a second round of layoffs. The company had said it would eliminate as many as 5,000 jobs, beginning with a round of 1,400 in January — its first major layoffs ever.

Two messages here. First, they see no green shoots in Redmond. That Microsoft decided to go ahead with the job cuts is an indication that executives expect continued rough waters ahead. Microsoft last month posted its first revenue decline in 23 years as a public company.

For the Puget Sound region, the message is ambiguous. A healthy Microsoft is good for us, even with some job cuts in the short term. And Microsoft says it will continue to hire in some areas, although whether those will be here is unclear. But the layoffs that hit Washington will add to the upward pressure on unemployment, and in many cases the jobs “ain’t comin’ back,” as the economist Bruce Springsteen put it.

You gotta love CEO Steve Ballmer signing his layoff email to employees, “Steve.” Just good ole Steve. Such is “business casual” — we’re all on first-name basis. Except one signs the checks and pink slips.

The back story: The media do the public a disservice by continually looking for “good news” of a turnaround. Let me explain: This historic recession was years, even decades, in the making.

Behind it are deep structural problems that can’t be quickly addressed. The green-shot watch distracts from a clear-eyed view of our situation and discussion of the reforms needed. It also continues the salesmanship seen in some of the financial media (CNBC, call your office) that enabled the disaster.

That said, here is a serious economist’s (Robert Gordon) argument about why the U.S. economy might hit bottom this month or next. The long climb out is another matter. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke said today he sees some hopeful signs, but “sizable job losses” will continue.

Today’s Econ Haiku:

The stress tests are done

Surprise — many banks are fine

Now, go buy that bridge

Comments | More in Microsoft, Outlook, Tech economy

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