By Dan Hamilton
The saga of the Great Recession continues. Over six million people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks, and job growth may be slow enough in the next few months that the unemployment rate rises again. Major revisions to GDP, released in late July, show that from 2007 to early 2011 the United States economy was weaker than previously understood. The consensus forecasts for the United States and World economies have been revised down.
However, these aspects, negative as they are, are not currently as important to near-term growth as the impact from the probable reduction in the number of countries in the European Union. Bill Watkins discusses the European crisis earlier in this blogspace.
The economy grew much more slowly during the first half of 2011 than during 2010. One big reason is that consumption growth slowed. I think that consumption growth will remain relatively weak for at least the remainder of this year. This is in part because I think that wealth accumulation and income growth will be weak. At this point, low interest rates do not help much. But, there is more to the consumption story. Household debt levels, despite subsiding from their bubble highs, are still too high. If households continue to reduce their debt, consumption growth will remain muted. While near-term growth suffers a bit when households save more, the long-run health of the economy is improved. Economic recovery from major asset price deflation has never been quick or pleasant, and this time is no different. Indeed, real estate prices remain low and equities are down from the first half of this year.
We forecast growth in inventory investment and in equipment/software investment. However, we are bearish on commercial structures and housing.
We forecast that government expenditures growth, which includes state and local, will remain slightly negative for the remainder of this year. It appears that governments at all levels have bumped into their budget constraints.
We forecast that trade will produce a slight drag on growth, with the trade balance deteriorating slightly. This is due to slowing world growth.
What about the Fed? They have conducted the first of their two-day policy meeting today. I expect that the Fed will announce a policy change tomorrow which could include an attempt to push longer-dated Treasury rates down and, less likely, a reduction in the interest rate on excess reserves. The market has appears to have priced in a reduction in longer rates. Despite this boost, equities are not doing very well.
A reduction in the interest rate on excess reserves would provide greater incentive for banks to loan, and this is the better idea of the two. However, this policy may not provide much benefit. The problem is that many small businesses and households are reducing debt, not increasing it.
As a result of the above mentioned forecast of the major components of GDP, our GDP forecast is bearish, significantly under the Wall Street Journal consensus of 55 forecasters for the second half of 2011 and the first half of 2012.
With the recent and forecasted weak United States and World economic growth and with a slowdown in commodity price growth, our forecast indicates that inflation will not be a problem. The secular trend in rising inflation since March will likely be broken soon, probably as soon as the September data is released in mid-October.
Inflation will be the least of the Fed’s worries during the second half of 2011.
Previously published September 28 in the “California Economic Forecast”: