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For the past several years, the US press, pundits, and apologists for both liberal and conservative politicians in the US have jumped at every slight indication of this or that monthly economic indicator showing improvement. The hype that followed typically declared the ‘recovery was now solidly underway’. That has been the media ‘mantra’ now for the past four years. Each time, the temporary good news was reversed, however, revealing the US economy was not on a trajectory of sustained economic recovery, but instead ‘bouncing along the bottom’, growing at a rate typically half that of recession recoveries in the past.

This summer 2013 has been no exception. Once again the drum beat continues, with press, pundits, and politicians grasping at straws to find the slightest evidence of improvement in the economy, which is subsequently spun to represent the view that a sustained economic recovery has begun. This latest view that once again ‘recovery is underway’ has been bolstered by a major redefinition of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US government agency responsible for issuing GDP data, this past July 2013. With a ‘stroke of the pen’, GDP for 2012 was boosted by $559 billion, and the GDP rate of growth for 2012 by almost a third.

But a closer look of the US economy over the past year, July 2012 to July 2013, reveals a longer term trend of the US economy weakening, not growing—and that despite even the recent upward revisions of GDP on paper by the US government’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, BEA.

The US Economy 2012-2013

When GDP for the calendar year 2012 is considered, the US economy grew at a rate of only 2.2%–i.e. about half to two-thirds of what is considered normal growth 39 months after the official end of the recession in June 2009, compared to the 10 prior recessions in the US since 1947. Moreover, even after the revisions to GDP this past month, the US economy grew the last twelve months—between July 2012 and June 2013—at a still weaker 1.4% annual rate.

After a 3.1% growth rate in the third quarter last year, 2012, the economy nearly stalled completely in the subsequent fourth quarter 2012, October-December, when it grew a paltry 0.4%. This was followed in the first quarter 2013 by a 1.1% GDP annual rate and in the most recent 2nd quarter, April-June 2013, by 1.7%. The latter, preliminary GDP estimate, will almost certainly be revised downward to less than 1.7% in subsequent second and third GDP adjustments to come.

It is worth further noting that the very weak, declining, 1.4% rate over the last 12 consecutive months would have been even much lower had special, one-time developments not boosted GDP temporarily in the final two quarters of 2012.

For example, in the 3rd quarter 2012 GDP rose by 3.1%. But the growth was heavily determined by a one time major surge in government spending, largely defense expenditures. Politicians typically concentrate spending before national elections and 2012 was no exception. That one time surge in defense federal spending was clearly an aberration from the longer term government spending trend since 2010, which has been declining since 2011 every quarter. The same pertains to state and local government spending.
The 3rd quarter 2012 defense spending surge reverted back to its longer term trend in the 4th quarter 2012. The economy and GDP then quickly collapsed to a meager 0.4% GDP rate, after being upward revised from a -0.1% actual decline. Whether -0.1% or 0.4%, when averaged with the preceding quarter’s 3.1%, the result was about 1.7%–which has been the average annual growth for the past two and half years.

The 4th quarter would have been even lower were it not for a surge in business spending on equipment in anticipation of a possible tax hike with the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations scheduled to conclude on January 1, 2013. But that late 2012 business equipment spending surge also proved temporary as well, flattening out and declining in the first quarter 2013.

Another one-off event then occurred in the 1st quarter 2013: a rise in business inventory expansion, which accounted for a full 1.5% of the total 2.5% of the 1st quarter 2013 GDP (henceforth revised down to 1.8% and again to 1.1%). That one time exceptional event of inventory accumulation subsequently disappeared too in the 2nd quarter 2013.

The 2nd Quarter 2013

During April-June 2013, the US economy grew at a slightly faster 1.7%. That growth was concentrated mostly in the business investment sector of the economy, which was significantly boosted by the GDP definition changes by the BEA that focused primarily on investment changes. Investment rose by 4.6% in the second quarter. How much of that was actual investment, and how much due to government redefinition of investment, remains to be seen. But with the GDP revisions adding $559 billion to 2012 US GDP, it is likely the 2nd quarter 2013 GDP data of 1.7% growth was significantly due to the BEA’s GDP redefinitions.

Consumer spending also contributed to the most recent second quarter’s 1.7% still below-normal growth. Its contribution was driven largely by auto spending and by residential housing construction. But neither housing nor auto consumption appear will continue at prior growth rates going forward into 2013. Here’s why:

Residential housing ‘hit a wall’ in mid-June 2013, in response to Federal Reserve policy announcements and mortgage rates shooting up by more than 1% in a matter of weeks. Since mid-June, home mortgage applications have fallen for seven consecutive weeks and home refinance activity collapsed by 57% to a two year low. It may be that the contribution of residential housing to GDP hereafter will decline sharply, slowing growth in the rest of 2013. Meanwhile, commercial and government construction activity continued its 5 year stagnation and decline.

In terms of auto spending, what was a robust growth in spending on autos appears recently in July to have pulled back sharply. Only truck sales are growing, stimulated by the prior housing expansion which, as noted, may be coming to an end as interest rates almost certainly will rise further in 2013. So truck sales can be expected to slow as well.

The most fundamental, important determinant of consumer spending is wage and income growth, and that continues to decline longer term, as it has for the past four years for all but the wealthiest households. By 2012 wages share of total national income had fallen to a record low of 43.5%, down from 50% in 2000. Thus far in 2013 the decline has continued.

The most important determinant of wage growth—and consumer spending—is employment. But here the picture is not particularly positive, despite all the hype about job creation this year in the US. For the first seven months of 2013, January through July, there were about 900,000 jobs created. That is about the same number of new entrants into the US labor force, which occurs at 150,000 a month. So the economy is just barely absorbing new entrants. However, the real picture is worse in terms of job driven wage growth and consumer spending. About two-thirds of that 900,000 job growth represents part time workers, who receive half pay and no benefits. The US economy is generating low pay, service, part time and temporary jobs. Full time permanent jobs, at higher pay and with benefits, declined since January by more than 250,000. This explains much of the declining wage and income share for working class households despite the modest wage growth. To the extent consumer spending has occurred, that spending appears mostly credit and debt driven.

That leaves business Investment as the major factor in the 2nd quarter 2013 US growth picture and its already weak 1.7% growth rate. However, as previously noted, it is unclear how much of that Investment is real and how much is the result of ‘the redefinition of the meaning and magnitudes of investment activity’ as a result of government changes to GDP definitions this past month.

Two other major segments of the US economy, apart from consumption and investment, are government spending and what’s called ‘net exports’ (exports minus imports). Here the government spending picture is even less positive. Combined federal and state-local government spending continued to decline in the latest quarter, as in preceding quarters. Anticipated additional deficit cutting later in 2013 and another debt ceiling debacle, should it occur, will only add to this sector’s drag on the US economy and counter claims of sustained US economic recovery on the way.

A Scenario for the Remainder of 2013

The factors contributing to US economic growth thus far in 2013 were primarily consumer spending on residential housing and auto sales, and the aforementioned revisions to GDP investment in the second quarter.
Both housing and auto sales now face significant headwinds with rising interest rates, show initial signs of slowing, and therefore are questionable as major contributing factors to further US economic growth for the remainder of the year—especially should interest rates rise once again. Should the US Federal Reserve begins to slow its $85 billion a month money injection, as most market analysts predict will soon happen, US interest rates will rise still further.

That will not only slow consumer spending and investment further, but will raise the value of the US dollar relative to other currencies, subsequently slowing US exports and the latter’s already weak contribution to US GDP in coming months as well.

Rising rates will also dampen business investment, at a time when businesses show little interest in expanding inventories of goods on hand from current lows.

It is worth noting that the mere suggestion of the Federal Reserve reducing its $85 billion a month money injection this past June 2013 provoked a major contraction of financial markets. The US 10 year Treasury bond in real terms rose 1.3% in a matter of a few weeks. That benchmark rate has significant impact not only on housing mortgages but auto sales and other rates negatively impacting consumption and investment. Should the Fed actually start ‘tapering’ its $85 billion in coming months, as is highly likely, that will almost certainly result in a further reaction by financial markets, possibly much worse, and this time perhaps enough to slow consumption, investment and the economy still further.

Added to all this, Government spending continues to be negative force and may even worsen significantly with another round of deficit spending cuts later this year. The very strong likelihood of another fight over the deficit, Obama’s budget due October 1, funding the federal government, and over extending the debt ceiling once again, will have further negative psychological effects on the US economy in coming months.

The US economy may thus, in the immediate months ahead, confront a dual problem of Fed ‘tapering, rising interest rates, more deficit cutting, and a renewed debt ceiling fight with its negative psychological impact similar to that witnessed in 2011 during a similar event.

Finally, unknown ‘tail events’ in the global economy cannot be ignored either. The often heard prospect that the US economy will soon pull the rest of the world onto a sustained growth path is wishful thinking. The Euro economy as a whole continues to ‘bounce along the bottom’, with little or no growth in its northern ‘core’ and continuing depression in its periphery. China appears headed for a hard landing, as its own long term growth rate continues to slow and the potential grows for a real estate bubble bust of major dimensions. Other BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, etc.) continue to struggle with a 1% average growth rate and are also ‘bouncing along the bottom’. And what was heralded as the new growth sector in the global economy only a few months, Japan’s growth rate has again slowed significantly in the most recent quarter.
In short, the longer term trend indicates the US economy is ‘bumping along the bottom’, growing most likely at no more than 1%-1.5% annually—hardly a rate to cheer about or to claim sustained economic growth has finally arrived. Contrary to the continued hype about a robust ‘snap back’ about to occur in the second half of 2013, there is little sign this will happen. The factors that have been responsible for that weak barely 1% longer term growth rate are themselves showing signs of slowing: housing spending, auto car sales, wages and household income, and government spending. And other major headwinds in terms of fiscal and monetary policies in the US, and in the broader global economy, are emerging on the horizon.

Nevertheless, the US economic recovery ‘spin machine’ continues to grind on—as it has for the past four years—declaring this time will be different and the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is real and not just a locomotive coming down the track.

Jack Rasmus, August 2013

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Nearly daily in recent weeks, indicators of the US economy have fluctuated wildly. One day reports of manufacturing and factory orders show a declining economy, another day housing prices and residential home building appear to rise; the next day purchasing managers show a services (88% of the economy) employment trend of absolutely no gain in job creation, followed by a monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that 170,000 jobs were created in May 2013. What to make of these conflicting indicators?

Stock and bond markets and investors—especially the average ‘herd’ mentality driven average types—become schizophrenic, buying one day and selling off the next. A true sign that the so-called ‘experts’ have no idea what’s coming next and that the US economy is churning and ‘frothing’, a sign of instability that could flip either way—toward more growth or toward a major relapse of the same.

As this writer has argued on numerous past occasions, the ‘experts’—whether of the business press or professional economist variety—tend to focus and hype the most recent report and indicator as revealing the ‘true’ emerging trend. But a better view is to consider the longer term trends behind the daily numbers and latest report. Furthermore, to factor in to this purely economic data analysis considerations of government (US and global) economic policy shifts, as well as highly potential ‘tail risk’ developments (a bank crash, a ‘Cyprus’ event, intensification of a currency war, etc.).

With that in mind, what follows is this writer’s analysis of the ‘longer term’ apparent trend in the US economy over the past year—as reflected in US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) numbers. However, US GDP is notoriously insufficient to fully reflect the US economic trend, for various reasons that will not be discussed here, except for two points: one is that US GDP does not accurately reflect the rate of inflation and therefore the proper adjustment for inflation to get ‘real GDP’. It underestimates inflation, thereby overestimating real GDP. It also fails to account for population growth and therefore real GDP per capita, which is the real estimate of how well the economy is doing. There are other major issues with GDP calculation that result in its overestimate of real US economic growth, that will remain unaddressed for now.

Despite its limitations, however, GDP is still the best of the worst indicators of the general state of the US economy. What follows, therefore, is an ‘intermediate’ term analysis of US GDP, over the past four quarters since summer of 2012. What it reveals is that the US economy is not accelerating onto a path of more sustained growth; to the contrary, that growth is slowly declining, which means all the hype based on short term, monthly reports and indicators should be considered with a good dose of skepticism.

Over the past year, July 2012 to June 2013, it appears US GDP has been fluctuating between virtually zero growth and 3%. But when special one-time, one off factors are adjusted for, the average growth rate is actually no more than 1.5% on average—or about the same average growth in 2012 and 2011. In other words, the economy has remained stuck in an historical, well below average recovery for the past two and a half years. Moreover, when properly further adjusted for actual inflation and for population growth, the US growth rate is averaging well less than 1% annually—i.e. has been stagnating for some time.

For example, in the 3rd quarter 2012 GDP rose by 3.1%. But the growth was heavily determined by a one time major surge in government spending, largely defense expenditures. Politicians typically concentrate spending before national elections and 2012 was no exception. That one time surge in defense federal spending was clearly an aberration from the longer term government spending trend since 2010, which has been declining since 2011 every quarter. The same pertains to state and local government spending.

The 3rd quarter 2012 defense spending surge reverted back to its longer term trend in the 4th quarter 2012. The economy and GDP then quickly collapsed to a meager 0.4% GDP rate, after being upward revised from a -0.1% actual decline. Whether -0.1% or 0.4%, when averaged with the preceding quarter’s 3.1%, the result was about 1.7%–which has been the average annual growth for the past two and half years.

The 4th quarter would have been even lower were it not for a surge in business spending on equipment in anticipation of a possible tax hike with the ‘fiscal cliff’ negotiations scheduled to conclude on January 1, 2013. But that late 2012 business equipment spending surge has also proved temporary as well, flattening out and declining in 2013. Another one off event then occurred in the 1st quarter 2013: a rise in business inventory expansion, which account for a full 1.5% of the total 2.5% of the 1st quarter 2013 GDP. And that one time exceptional event disappeared too in the 2nd quarter. So when the temporary, one off effects of pre-election government defense spending, business equipment spending at year end, and inventory surge in early 2013 are ‘backed out’ of the longer term trend, that longer trend is a GDP growth of no more than 1.5%–or about half that normally at this stage, five years after the recession.

As noted previously, moreover, even that is an overestimation. What’s important is real GDP, not just price increases for goods and services. So adjustment is typically made for inflation. But the official inflation index used to calculate real GDP is called the ‘GDP Deflator’, the most conservative measure of inflation; that is, the index that minimizes inflation the most. And by minimizing inflation, the result is to maximize real GDP, making GDP appear larger than it actually is. For example, both the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditure Price Index (PCE) record a significantly higher inflation rate than the GDP Deflator, and therefore a significantly lower real GDP than the Deflator index. Using the CPI, the average for GDP since July 2012 through March 2013 would be well below 1.5% and likely closer to 1% average growth. Finally, when population growth is taken into account and ‘per capita GDP’ is considered—i.e. the real effect of growth on real people—than the growth rate is adjustable further by another 0.5%. We’re now talking about US GDP and economic growth at a sub-par less than 1%. That’s economic stagnation and an economy drifting toward, and teetering on the edge, of another recession—a condition of fragility that would take little to push over the edge into another, ‘double dip’ recession.
For the past 18 months this writer has therefore been predicting that a double dip recession in the US is quite possible, and even likely, somewhere in the late 2013 or early 2014 timeframe should the two following conditions occur: first, the continuation of government program spending cuts and, second, a new eruption of a banking crisis in Europe which is today the weakest link in the global economy. This prediction is reiterated, adding now a third possible major disruptive factor: a shift in Federal Reserve Monetary policy (slowing or stopping its current $85 billion per month ‘quantitative easing’ (QE) money injection into the economy) that would result in a sharp upward rise in general interest rates in the US.

Stated alternatively: given the slowing global economy and the deepening recession and financial instability in Europe, should the US continue to implement additional fiscal spending cuts (aka ‘austerity American style’) late in 2013 and, simultaneously, have the Federal Reserve act such that interest rates continue to rise—then the probability is high the US economy will slip into another ‘double dip’ recession.

Perhaps anticipating this possibility, the US government agency responsible for calculating GDP, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, is planning this summer 2013 to significantly revise the way it does so. That revision will increase GDP by as much as $500 billion, according to a report by the global business daily, The Financial Times, this past April 2013. Already a relatively weakly accurate indicator of the performance of the US economy, GDP will likely soon become even more so.
In other words, while an actual double dip recession may occur later in 2013-14, especially when properly adjusted for inflation and population growth, it may nonetheless be conveniently ‘defined away’ by the forthcoming changes in its method of calculation.

Jack Rasmus, June, 2013

Jack is the author of the 2012 book, “Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few”; host of the weekly radio show, ‘Alternative Visions’, on the Progressive Radio Network; and ‘shadow’ chairman of the Federal Reserve in the recently formed Green Shadow Cabinet. His website is: http://www.kyklosproductions.com, his blog: jackrasmus.com, and twitter handle: #drjackrasmus.

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THE FOLLOWING IS THIS WRITER’S CONTINUING ANALYSIS OF THE MOST RECENT GDP DATA RELEASED YESTERDAY BY THE US COMMERCE DEPT. THE DATA CONFIRMS PAST PREDICTIONS AND ANALYSES LAST JANUARY AND APRIL CONCERNING THE DIRECTION OF THE US ECONOMIC SLOWDOWN, REASONS WHY, AND FUTURE SCENARIOS

On Friday, July 27, 2012 the US Department of Commerce released its report on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) results for the 2nd quarter for the US economy, with GDP revisions for the economy as well from 2009 through 2011.

Last winter the broad consensus among mainstream economists, politicians and the press was the US economy was finally on the way to recovery. Economic indicator after indicator was flashing green, they argued, proving recovery was in full swing. GDP for the 4th quarter 2011 recorded a moderately healthy 4% growth rate and was predicted by widespread sectors of the media would continue. But GDP numbers just released on July 27, 2012 show that 4% growth dropped precipitously by half, to only 2%. And in the latest report issued last week, 2nd quarter 2012 GDP continued to fall further to only 1.5%.

GDP for the first half of this year therefore has averaged about 1.7%–which is about the same 1.7% GDP growth for all of 2011. The US economy, in other words, is not growing any faster this year than it did last year. It is essentially stagnant, unable to generate a sustained recovery despite $3 trillion in spending and tax cuts over the past three and a half years. This scenario will at best continue, and may alternatively even worsen in the coming months; and if not worsen this year, certainly so in 2013.

This rapid slowing of the US economy in 2012 was predicted by this writer early last December 2011, in a general economic forecast for 2012-13 that appeared in the January 1 issue of Z magazine. Contrary to the 4th quarter 4% GDP trend, in December 2011 this writer contrarily predicted “the first quarter of 2012 will record a significant slowing of GDP growth” and “the US economy will weaken further in the second quarter, 2012”.

The US economy has been essentially stagnant for at least the past two years, bumping along the bottom at a sub-par 2.5% GDP growth rate. The economy needs to grow in excess of 2.5% for net job creation to occur. Given the economy’s longer term 1.7% growth rate, it is not surprising net job growth the past three months has averaged barely 80,000 a month—i.e. well below the 125,000 or more needed just to absorb new entrants into the labor force. So we are in fact losing jobs again this year, 2012, despite what the official unemployment rate says.

Readers should note this 1.7% sub-par GDP growth the past 18 months has occurred despite the $802 billion tax cut passed by Congress in December 2010, virtually all of which was tax cuts for businesses and higher income household investors. In fact, it was more than $802 billion if further tax cuts for small businesses over the past 18 months are also factored into the total. Perhaps as much as $900 billion in pro-business/investor tax cuts have been passed, which have had minimal to zero impact on the economy and job creation. So much for that myth, and conservative-corporate ideology constantly pushed by politicians and the press, that ‘tax cuts create jobs’. Readers should keep that factual absence of any positive relationship between tax cuts and jobs and economy in mind, when more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are proposed by both parties once again as part of the year end deal coming immediately after the November elections. Expect both sides, Republicans and Democrats alike, to agree on reducing the top bracket tax rate on personal and corporate income both, from current 35% to at least 28% (the old Reagan years rate).

1st Quarter GDP: Temporary Growth Factors Disappear

While the hype about economic recovery was in full swing last winter, this writer pointed out in various publications that the 4th quarter GDP numbers were based almost totally on one-off developments that would disappear by mid-year 2012. At least half of the 4th quarter’s 4% growth rate was due to business inventory spending, making up at year end for the collapse of the same in the preceding 3rd quarter. Auto sales driving consumer spending was also noted as a temporary effect, given they were based on deep discounting and temporary demand that would not continue. Business spending that surged in the 4th quarter was also identified as temporary, as it was driven by year end claiming of tax credits, while manufacturing export gains in late 2011 would soon dissipate, it was predicted, as the global economy and trade slowdown eventually reached the U.S. in 2012.

The halving of GDP growth by the 1st quarter 2012 was due in part, as predicted, to the slowing of auto sales. The previously predicted slowing of business inventory spending occurred, while the 4th quarter’s business investing also disappeared as predicted. In addition to the dissipating temporary factors, new developments added to the 1st quarter’s GDP decline: Consumer spending slowed, as escalating gasoline prices began once again (for a third year in a row) taking their toll on consumers and as auto sales growth began to show signs of weakening. The global slowing of manufacturing also finally began to penetrate US economy by 2012, as US exports grew more slowly than imports and thus depressing GDP still further. Finally, the 30 month long decline in government spending, especially at the state and local government level, continued unabated into 2012.

In late April this writer predicted that the 2% first quarter 2012 GDP would continue to decline still further. In a piece in Truthout.org on May 8, it was predicted the 1st quarter GDP “decline will likely continue further in the months immediately ahead, to possibly as low as 1.5% the second quarter, April-June 2012.” (In a piece in Znet on May 6 it was predicted for the second quarter 2012 that “The growth rate could slow to possibly as low as 1.5%”).

2nd Quarter GDP’s Continuing Downtrend

The same factors that have been driving the 4% GDP to 2% in the January-March 2012 period have driven it lower still, to the recent 1.5%.

In the most recent 2nd quarter 2012, both consumer and business spending showed even further weakening—while government spending continued to contract for the 33rd consecutive month and the contribution to GDP by exports fell further as well.

Consumer spending on goods declined from its 5.4% rate in the 4th quarter to only 0.7% this past quarter. Durable goods spending in particular fell off a cliff last quarter, as auto sales not only slowed dramatically, as in the 1st quarter, but now in the 2nd actually turned negative. But perhaps the most dramatic indicator is the fall off in retail sales in general. Retail sales April-June fell in each of the three months. That is the first time for a three consecutive month decline since the deep collapse of 2008! Even services consumption recorded its slowest and lowest growth in two years!

What consumer spending did occur in the 2nd quarter was driven by sharply rising credit card debt as well as household auto and education debt, credit cards growing by 11.2% and auto-student loans by 8%. In other words, to the extent consumer spending is occurring at all it is not due to rising household real disposable income—which is actually falling—but due to households taking on more debt. So much for the mainstream argument that consumer spending is slowing because households are working off debt (i.e. so-called deleveraging). That may be true for the wealthiest 10% households with income growth from stocks and bonds, but not for the bottom 90%, i.e. the more than 100 million rest of us. But consumer spending increasingly dependent on credit cards and other borrowing portends poorly for further spending down the road. It is not sustainable and will result in yet a further slowing of consumer spending and consequently economic growth.

Consumer spending is not the only major trouble spot in the 2nd quarter that promises to continue into the 3rd and beyond. Business spending also showed new signs of trouble in new places as well as the old last quarter. Business spending on plant expansion, which shows up as business ‘structures’ spending, collapsed last quarter from prior double digit levels in the 4th quarte—from 33.9% to only 0.9% in the last three months. That plummeting structures spending will eventually translate into a slowing of new job creation going forward as well. Businesses that don’t expand don’t add jobs. Slowing business spending was also evident in new orders placed for manufactured goods that turned negative for each of the past three. Watch next for the other business spending sector, on equipment and software, soon to flattened out in the future as well.

A third sector of the economy that contributed to growth in 2011, but has also reversed now as well, is exports. New orders for US exports have declined the past two months in a row, the first back to back fall since 2009. That confirms that any contribution of exports and manufacturing to GDP is now clearly over. It never really contributed that much in the first place, despite all the Obama administration hype in 2010-11 that manufacturing and more free trade would ‘lead the way’ to sustained US economic recovery. It was all hype to reward multinational technology and other companies—big contributors to Democratic election coffers—while diverting attention away from the obvious failures to generate sustained recovery after the three Obama ‘recovery programs’ introduced in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
Not least there’s the continued poor performance of the government sector in the 2nd quarter. It has continued to decline every quarter since the 3rd quarter of 2009, or 33 consecutive months now. That spending decline at the state and local government level has been the case despite more than $300 billion in federal stimulus subsidies to the states since June 2009 and hundreds of billions more in unemployment insurance payments by the federal government to the states. Why state-local government spending has declined every quarter since mid-2009 despite the massive subsidies is an anomaly yet to be explained. Like corporations hoarding their tax cuts, and banks hoarding their bailouts, both refusing to use the money to lend and create jobs—perhaps the states and local governments also hoarded their subsidies. Perhaps that’s why the Obama administration quickly shifted its promise that its stimulus package would create jobs, to a message that it would, if not create, at least ‘save jobs’.

In answer to the obvious further deteriorating in the 2nd quarter in both consumer, business, and government spending, the press and media in recent weeks have tried to grab at straws and hype a ‘recovery underway in the housing sector’. But this line has been based on the slimmest of evidence: the indicator that home builders’ new construction has risen. But the media hype in recent weeks regarding housing has conveniently ignored various other indicators recently showing continued housing sector stagnation: For example, new home sales declined by 8.4% in June, the largest fall since early 2011. Mortgage loan applications and new building permits also fell, while median home prices recorded a –3.2% decline compared to a year earlier. That amounts to nothing near a housing recovery. To the extent home building has risen, it has been largely limited to multi-family units—i.e. to apartment building. That’s not surprising, given the 12 million plus homeowners who have been foreclosed since the recession began and need some place to live. But housing sector indicators as a whole still show that sector languishing well below half of what it was pre-2007 and with little indication of any kind of sustained growth or recovery. As in the case of net job creation, without a housing recovery leading the way there is no sustained general US economic recovery.

In all the 11 prior recessions since 1947 in the U.S., state and local government spending increases, net job creation in the private sector equivalent to 350,000 jobs per month for six consecutive months, and housing sector recovery have all been necessary to ‘lead the way’ out of recession. But for the past four years none of the above has been the case. There have been no effective jobs program, housing-foreclosures solution program, or state-local government spending program. That tripartite failure is at the heart of the failed economic recovery of the Obama first term.

Jack Rasmus
Jack is the author of the April 2012 book, “Obama’ Economy: Recovery for the Few”, published by Pluto Press and Palgrave-Macmillan. His other recent articles, radio and tv interviews, are available on his website, http://www.kyklosproductions.com

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