Is a Budget Deficit Necessary for Economic Health?

Includes: DIA, QQQ, SPY
by: Steven Hansen

Those looking for true empirical evidence in economics face frustration. It is fairly easy to accumulate evidence to support any theory. Economists have yet to develop a formula that both identifies and quantifies the billion points which are the sum of the economy.

In the real world, any theory requires testing for proof. This test requires this one point of the economy to be adjusted according to the theory, and the other billion minus one points held constant. And that is the rub, all of our economic theory is based on billions of points moving simultaneously – and trying to “prove” that only one point made the economy better or worse.

In economics, empirical “truth” is not much more than competing theories put forth by dogmatic camps. Proof is shown by taking a few points of historical data – not the billion points which would create a chaotic and unprovable view of any theory. Further, the elements which comprise the economy are continuously morphing – the economic dynamics of the 1930′s are significantly different than the 2010′s.

The USA federal budget balancing debate is a case in point.

Dogmatically, I want to believe there are tipping points (drinking too little water – you die, drinking too much water – you die). Overall, balance is necessary. Therefore I naturally migrate to the view that over time, the budget must have balance.

The above graph (), includes the only recent economic period where the budget was balanced (the right scale value is for the red line with 1 being a balanced budget, a value >1 being a surplus, <1 a budget deficit). A reasonable person would expect that the economy (blue line is GDP) would react positively.

Yet, economic performance started to degrade as the Federal Budget came into balance. Did the balanced budget cause this? What were the other major factors?

My mantra is the saying “be careful what you wish for, you might get it.” I personally would love to prove a balanced budget is necessary for the economic health of a country. I have a hard time getting my head around there may be fundamental differences between your personal budget and a sovereign budget.

Is it possible a certain amount of deficit drives a modern economy?

Economic News this Week:

Econintersect’s economic forecast for June 2011 indicates growth in June will be less good.

This week the Weekly Leading Index (WLI) from ECRI declined from 4.1% to 3.7%. This level implies the business conditions six months from now will be approximately the same compared to today. This index is eroding and clearly in a downtrend. If the current trend line holds, this index will be in negative territory in 2 months. Click to enlarge:

The declining WLI and Econintersect’s own index is in sharp contrast to the growing Leading Economic Index (analysis here).

Initial unemployment claims improved this week 16,000 to 414,000 but remains elevated, and the real gauge – the 4 week moving average – remained unchanged at 424,750 because of backward revision. Because of the noise (week-to-week movements), the 4 week average remains the reliable gauge. Historically, claims exceeding 400,000 per week yields employment gains less than the workforce growth. Click to enlarge:

We are continuing to see terrible April and May 2011 data. Econintersect’s previous economic forecasts predicted a growing economy but at cycle peaks. The data being released continues to indicate we are on the downside of cycle peaks – with the cycle peak likely being in March, or possibly April 2011. The data is less good, but not contracting.

Econintersect does not count surveys as data, nor believes they accurately forecast economic conditions.

Weekly Economic Release Scorecard:

Item Headline Analysis
Invalid Mortgage Transfers

Yves Smith looks at why the market will soon notice the mortgage securitization issues are not going away
May Conference Board Leading Indicator
The LEI is bucking the trend of every other leading indicator saying the future conditions are improving
Consumer Metrics

Rick Davis walks through the ongoing consumer contraction.
May New Residential Permits
This market sector is bottoming after falling since 2006
June Philly Fed Business Survey
Big Down
Second survey this week implying the economy may be contracting
May Industrial Production
Literally Flat
YoY Growth trend has fallen from 8% to 4% in one year
May Consumer Price Index
Up to 3.6%
Big price increase driver energy moderated, but offset by cars and clothing
June Empire State Manufacturing Survey
Big Down
This noisy survey dipped into recession territory
May Container Counts
Counts are up 5% YoY showing the economy is still expanding
March Business Sales
Final manufacturing, wholesale and retail numbers are on the low side of current trends
June Small Business Survey
A little lower
Small business is the producer of jobs in the USA
May Retail Sales
Flat or Up compared to April
May Producer Price Index
Up to 7.3%
Manufacturing price increases still driven up by energy
Global Financial Crisis

Steve Keen wrote this post one year ago, and all that has changed is the can was kicked down the road
May Treasury Statement

A look at historical data shows less and less of government spending is getting into GDP
Health Care Costs

Elliott Morss points at five inefficiencies in the USA medical system
Budget Balancing

Rick Davis suggests budget balancing is recessionary, but can be offset by cost benefits of relaxing regulations
The Volatility Machine

Dirk Ehnts reviews Michael Pettis’ book
European Debt Repudiation

L. Randall Wray says it is time to admit the Euro Monetary Union was designed to fail
USA – Tyranny & Oppression

Washington’s Blog warns truth is the first casualty of war
Trade in Eurozone

Dirk Ehnts examines if you can consider trade between EMU countries as trade in a historical sense
Ireland a Model for Fiscal Reform

William Black believes Ireland proved as desirable a model for Europe as Texas proved as a model for federal deregulation of S&Ls

Albertarocks charts out why the $VIX is not surging
World Markets

Doug Shorts compares global markets
Call-Put Ratio MacroTides explains the meaning of the current extreme lows
USA Markets

Jeff Miller says Market sell off may have gone too far
Iraq War

Frank Li says the real cost of the Iraq War is not $ cost

Bankruptcies this Week: Xanadoo Holdings (fka Pegasus Satellite Communications Holdings), Perkins & Marie Callender’s (fka The Restaurant Company)

Bank Failures This Week:

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.