James Politi

The Federal Reserve has just released data on industrial production in September, and it wasn’t pretty. For the first time since the end of the recession in June 2009, factory output fell by 0.2 per cent – a disappointment compared to expectations of a small increase.

This is without doubt another round of ammunition in the belt of those officials on the Federal Open Market Committee who believe, without too many reservations, that an aggressive quantitative easing programme should get underway promptly. Read more

James Politi

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 hit hardest in two areas: sun-belt states such as Arizona and Florida that were exposed by the housing boom and bust, as well as rust-belt states like Michigan and Ohio that were already suffering from the erosion of America’s manufacturing base. Interestingly enough, Texas and the Midwest, which bore the brunt of the 1980-1982 recession, managed to escape most of the pain this time around. 

The worst-off communities in this cycle were the focus of a conference this morning organised by the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, which conducts research on economic policy and counts Robert Rubin, former treasury secretary, and Roger Altman, former deputy treasury secretary, as senior advisers. Read more

Robin Harding

At the next FOMC meeting on Sept 21st the committee will have to update its economic forecasts.

 Read more

“Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems,” Ben Bernanke said today in a speech that – had it not been so carefully phrased – would have been guilty of wilful optimism.

Stripping out the padding, for example, we can pull together one logical sequence from his speech:

Fiscal impetus and the inventory cycle can drive recovery only temporarily. For a sustained expansion to take hold, growth in private final demand–notably, consumer spending and business fixed investment–must ultimately take the lead… The prospects for household spending depend to a significant extent on how the jobs situation evolves… Incoming data on the labor market have remained disappointing.

And as for prospects for a revival next year, Bernanke’s assertion is quite damning in its timidity:

Despite the weaker data seen recently, the preconditions for a pickup in growth in 2011 appear to remain in place.

So, the necessary (but not sufficient) conditions for growth currently in place do not appear to be getting any worse for next year. Well phew. Read more

Robin Harding

Back in April when I planned my move to the US, August looked like a safe time to be packing boxes and dealing with utility companies. The economy was growing, the Fed seemed set to keep policy on hold for at least a year, and surely nobody would do anything in the heat of the summer anyway? So much for my skills as an economic forecaster.

I’m back to find the Fed reinvesting the proceeds from maturing mortgage-backed securities – after what seems to have been a pretty lively FOMC meeting on the 10th – with no change to the steady decline in the economic data.

What strikes me is how continuously bad the news has been in the last month, with no progress in the labour market, and series such as today’s new home sales still hitting record lows. Read more

There were some very good presentations at the Monetary Policy Forum, organised by Fathom Consulting this morning, all of which highlighted what a difficult job the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee has at the moment. Cogent arguments can be made both for loosening and tightening monetary policy.

Charles Goodhart, former Bank chief economist, MPC member and general guru, said that were he on the MPC now, he would wish he could do a Rip Van Winkle, go to sleep until 2012, and wake up once some of the uncertainty over the recovery is removed. Why? “Because the next year and a bit will be fairly horrific”.

The reason things look so difficult for monetary policy is that the outlook for the inflation-growth trade-off has worsened. When Fathom plug the latest data through their replica of the Bank of England’s main economic model they first find that the Bank seems to be seriously over-optimistic on growth as their chart shows.

Now, neither Fathom nor anyone else can accurately replicate the MPC forecasts because the published versions rest on judgments by the Committee members as much as the model’s outputs. But the argument put forward Read more

James Politi

I wrote a story in this morning’s paper on a survey that showed pervasive pessimism among American consumers about their economic situation.

71 per cent told AlixPartners, a business consulting group, that they were either worse off or in the same place as they were in May 2009 – and let’s remember that at the time the US economy was shrinking and the private sector was not generating jobs as it is now, albeit slowly, but was losing more than 300,000 positions per month.

The dispiriting survey by Alix caught my attention because it confirms that recovery is eluding most Americans, who are suffering from high unemployment and overleveraged household balance sheets. And the implications of this are huge: consumers are in no position to power the recovery once government stimulus stops later this year. Read more

James Politi

Money Supply - click for larger image

Money Supply – click for larger image

Last week’s dispiriting jobs report has led to pervasive pessimism about the state of the US labour market specifically and the pace of the recovery more in general.

So it was quite refreshing to see a research note land in my inbox this morning from Milton Ezrati, senior economist and market strategist at Lord Abbett, a fund manager, laying out the case why the labour market recovery is actually proceeding ahead of schedule compared to other recoveries.

Mr Ezrati’s argument is based on measuring this cycle’s labour market recovery with the average time that it taken a variety of labour market indicators to rebound after gross domestic product hits its trough during previous cycles. Read more

James Politi

It was a rough day on the economics beat here in Washington. Rough in terms of America’s hopes for a strong economic recovery, that is.

Let’s recap. At 8.30am, the labor department released its weekly jobless claim figures. They were up unexpectedly to 472,000. Back in April, when job creation seemed to gathering momentum, many economists were looking at the stubbornly weekly jobless claims data as an aberration. Eventually, the numbers would have to move closer to 400,000. But now, the opposite seems true and private payroll growth looks destined to be modest, with persistently high unemployment and therefore high jobless claims. We’ll know more tomorrow from the more important monthly government jobs report, but still, the labour market outlook is not rosy.

Then, at 10am, a double punch in the face. The ISM manufacturing index dropped a lot more than expected in June, suggesting that one of the bright stars of the recovery is beginning to fade. Most economists knew that after inventories were restocked, there would be some loss of momentum. Read more

Simone Baribeau

Who has the crisis hit hardest?

The 53m people (close to the population of the UK) who will remain in extreme poverty by 2015 who would not have had there not been a crisis.

And that wasn’t the grimmest of the World Bank-IMF Global Monitoring report.

“Although the recovery is underway the negative impact will be lasting,” said Delfin Go, World Bank lead economist, at a press conference.

Among the other impacts of the crisis:

  • 1.2m additional children may die from 2009 to 2015.
  • 100m people (three times the population of Canada) may remain without access to clean drinking water.
  • 350,000 more children may not finish primary school.

 Read more

James Politi

Buoyant US economic data has revived a debate over the shape of the US recovery.

In congressional testimony this week, Ben Bernanke made clear he thought the risks of a “double-dip” recession, while “not negligible”, had fallen in recent months. Read more

Simone Baribeau

Homeprices resume their fall after recent gains after the tax credit was set to expire.

Ben Bernanke, Federal Reserve chairman, earlier today cited “residential and nonresidential construction” as a headwind to the “moderate” economic recovery. But he also said that consumer spending will be boosted by “a gradual pickup in jobs and earnings, the recovery in household wealth from recent lows, and some improvement in credit availability.”

Household wealth is, of course, comprised of many types of assets, including retirement portfolios and other equity and bond investment holdings. But one of its major components is home values.

So is that portion of household wealth likely to grow? See the somewhat downbeat graph. Read more

Ralph Atkins

So Germany – alone among the seven richest nations - may see a “double-dip” contraction? That at least is what the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has suggested in its latest forecasts.

Really? The OECD’s forecast of a first quarter contraction seemed odd, especially as it coincided with more good news on German industrial orders. Dispelling fears of a fall, German orders held steady in February, after a whopping 5.1 per cent rise in January, the Berlin economics ministry reported. Business confidence indicators and purchasing managers’ indices have also been strong recently. Read more

Simone Baribeau

Household debt continued to contract last quarter, falling at an annual rate of 1.25 per cent according to the Federal Reserve’s flow of funds data released today. It’s the seventh consecutive quarterly decline, but its slowest since the fourth quarter of 2008. As has been the case, the falls have been split between home mortgage debt, which fell at an annual rate of 0.75 per cent, significantly slower than the last two quarters, and credit card debt, which fell at 5.75 per cent, significantly faster.

So does this mean that US consumers are buckling down and, despite job losses and declining household wealth, paying down their credit cards?

Probably not, according to a recent credit card debt study from Card Hub. (h/t Felix SalmonRead more

Simone Baribeau

Action Economics said in a research note that it expected the Bank of Canada to begin increasing its main interest rate in July as the labour market continued to recover.

The general uptrend in hiring since last August will leave an upbeat outlook for Canada’s job market and broader economy that underpins expectations for BoC tightening to start in July.

We expect the BoC to hike rates 25 bps in July. The March announcement began to build the case for rate hikes in the second half of this year as the Bank is projected to move rates from currently extraordinary accommodative levels to merely accommodative levels. At the same time, the prominent role of monetary policy in the recovery and continued downside risks to growth and inflation back the maintenance of an 0.25% floor through Q2 of 2010 and a measured approach to second half tightening.

Action Economics predictions on Canadian tightening: Read more

Calling a turning point is tricky, and offers ample room to make oneself look silly.

But I reckon a good indicator is surprise. If pundits expect the continuation of a trend, and are surprised, that suggests either a temporary blip or a reversal. And if there are many such related surprises, evidence strengthens for the reversal.

Well, there is a lot of surprise in this office at the moment. Every day there seems to be a new (negative) data release for the UK or US – and every day I see colleagues raising eyebrows at the size of that surprise. An eyebrow raise, in Britain, is a powerful indicator.

So I’m keeping a list, below, of the latest data releases. Read more

Simone Baribeau

Janet L. Yellen, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, today spoke of an ‘impressive’ turn-around in GDP and said that the tide of dismal economic news ‘appears to have turned.’ But there the upbeat message of the a leading dove ended.

The annual 5.7 per cent growth in fourth quarter GDP was unlikely to be sustained, she argued.

Unfortunately, I’m not at all convinced that a V-shaped recovery is in the cards. That fourth-quarter leap in GDP overstates the underlying momentum of the recovery.

The reason for her scepticism in the sustainability of last quarter’s growth was, of course, the same as everyone else’s: most of it was due to a slowdown Read more

Simone Baribeau

William C Dudley, president of the New York Federal Reserve, gave a particularly non-populist speech today in Puerto Rico. Giving non-populist speeches is, of course, the job of FOMC members: they worry about keeping the economy on track in the long-term, freed from short-term political considerations. But even so, Mr Dudley’s speech was candid.

After speaking at length about the ways in which failures in the US had negatively impacted the Puerto Rican economy, he suggested the US territory make a number of changes to mitigate the damage. Among them:

1. Raise taxes on lower-income workers.

Of course, he’s slightly more politic than that, but only just. Read more

Simone Baribeau

The Paraguayan central bank today lifted its 2010 GDP estimate to 6 per cent, after having seen its economy shrink by 3.8 per cent in 2009. It’s a huge turnaround (it was expecting just over 4 per cent growth in 2010 before). So big, in fact, that the economy will recover to above its 2008 levels.

And here’s the happy graph - Read more

Ralph Atkins

The eurozone ride gets a little scarier. Jürgen Stark, European Central Bank executive board member, warned in a speech in Leipzig this morning that growth in the first half of this year would probably be more restrained than in the final six months of 2009. Stark heads the economics department at the ECB, so his projections should be as good as anyone’s. Stark, a former Bundesbank vice president, insisted this did not mean a “double dip” recession, rather it was consistent with a gradual and bumpy (“holprigen”) recovery. But it suggests we could be in for some gloomier economic news in coming months.

More striking – to me at least - were Stark’s comments on economic imbalances within the eurozone. He devoted a large part of his speech (and a few charts) to comparing wage costs and current account deficits/surpluses across the 16-country region. Read more