Oh Really? Economic Growth To Improve?

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by: Steven Hansen
Summary

The Federal Reserve and economists believe the economy will accelerate in 2018.

The issue boils down to inflation as it cuts into growth when you determine growth by counting dollars.

What is inflation doing to consumer's real income growth?

A small economic growth spurt is forecast according to the Federal Reserve and a slew of economists for 2018.

Definitely construction and transport sector's growth rates have picked up - and pre-Great Recession history tells us this is a bellwether of better times. But on the other hand, too many economic elements are soft.

Take wages and salaries - historically the growth rate correlates with economic expansion. According the BEA income data, wages and salaries are currently growing at a rate about average for times of economic expansion (blue line in below graph). Unfortunately, BEA wages and salaries are heavily influenced by the upper quartile whose salaries rise significantly faster than the lower quartiles.

The BLS's Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees data set (red line on graph below) is currently at the highest year-over-year rate of growth since the end of the Great Recession. This upward trend began in October 2012. One might think this data set is primarily for manufacturing but it includes the service sector also. From FRED:

Nonsupervisory employees include those individuals in private, service-providing industries who are not above the working-supervisor level. This group includes individuals such as office and clerical workers, repairers, salespersons, operators, drivers, physicians, lawyers, accountants, nurses, social workers, research aides, teachers, drafters, photographers, beauticians, musicians, restaurant workers, custodial workers, attendants, line installers and repairers, laborers, janitors, guards, and other employees at similar occupational levels whose services are closely associated with those of the employees listed.

This BLS Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees data set should provide a good picture of what the lower and middle quartiles are seeing in terms of wage and salary growth.

But the data discussed so far ignores inflation which is currently at a six year high - but it still is about the average seen since 1990. Inflation eats wage growth. The yellow line on the above graph shows real earnings growth - and one can notice that the year-over-year growth rate is currently far from excellent. How can the lower quartiles of the economy expand spending when their paycheck is not keeping up with inflation.

When one believes economic growth is improving, it is not a stretch to believe it is a positive dynamic for the markets. But with median wage growth and inflation growing about the same rate - it is highly improbable that a consumer driven economy can accelerate.

My usual weekly wrap is in my instablog.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.