Category Archives: US Growth

6/5/20: 1Q 2020 US GDP:

From Factset: "The decrease in first-quarter real GDP was largely driven by the 7.6% decline in consumer spending, which subtracted 5.3% from the total GDP number. Investment was also a drag on growth, while an improvement in the trade deficit partially offset these negatives. We may see downward revisions to these numbers with the next two data revisions, and second-quarter growth is expected to be far worse. Analysts surveyed by FactSet are currently expecting a 29.9% contraction in Q2."


22/6/18: ‘Skeptical’ IMF tends to be over-optimistic in its U.S. growth forecasts

In recent weeks, the IMF came under some criticism for posting relatively gloomy forecasts for the U.S. economy, especially considering the White House rosy outlook that stands out in comparison. see for example, WSJ on the subject here:

Which begs two questions:

  1. Does IMF have any grounds to stand on its forecasts divergence from the White House? and
  2. Are IMF forecasts for the U.S. economy actually any good?
Firstly, the grounds:

Per above chart, the IMF is not alone in being less than exuberant about forward growth forecasts for the U.S. In fact, it is White House that appears to be an outlier when it comes to 2020-2023 outlook.

Secondly, per the question above, I crunched through IMF's semi-annual forecasts releases from April 2013 on (period prior to 2013 is too volatile in terms of overall fundamentals to take any forecast errors seriously). The chart below summarizes these against the actual outrun:

On the surface, it appears that IMF forecasts in recent years carried massive errors compared to outrun. So I did a little more digging around. I took 1, 2, 3, and 4 years-ahead forecasts, averaged them over different forecast releases, and estimated 90 and 95 percent confidence intervals for these. Here is the resulting chart:
What does the data tell us? It says that IMF forecasts have, on average, overstated actual growth outrun. In other words, IMF forecasts have been over-optimistic, not excessively pessimistic, in the recent past. More that that, IMF's current (April 2018 WEO release) forecast for the U.S. GDP growth is even more optimistic than already historically optimistic tendencies of the Fund imply. In other words, even though the first chart above shows the IMF forecast for the U.S. growth to be pessimistic, compared to that of the White House, in reality, IMF's forecasts tend to be wildly optimistic.

Average error for 1 year ahead forecast for the U.S. in IMF releases has been 0.037 percentage points (very small), rising to 0.476 percentage points for 2 years ahead forecasts (more material error), and 0.867 percent for 3 years ahead forecasts. Augmenting data (to achieve larger number of observations to 2000-2006, 2011-2014 periods, 4 years ahead average forecasts has been 0.867 percentage points above the outrun growth. And so on.

So, to summarize:

  1. IMF is not unique in being less optimistic on the U.S. economy than the White House;
  2. IMF's history of forecast errors suggests that the Fund tends to be overly optimistic in its forecasts and that current official Fund forecasts are more likely to be reflective of significant over-estimation of future growth than under-estimation;
  3. IMF's forecasts more than 1 year out should be treated with some serious caution - something that applies to all forecasters.

30/4/17: The Scariest Chart in the World

The scariest chart in the world this week, indeed this month, comes from the U.S. and plots U.S. real GDP growth with 1Q 2017 print at just 0.7% y/y.

Yes, the print ranks 13th from the bottom for any positive growth quarter since 2Q 1947. And yes, the rate of growth is (a) preliminary (subject to revisions) and (b) seeming one-off (driven by fall-off in consumer demand, despite strong indicators on consumer confidence side). There are reason and heaps of arguments why this print should not be treated as huge concern and that things might improve in 2Q and on.

But... the really scary stuff is longer-term trend in U.S. growth. And that is illustrated in the chart below:

Look at the grey bars: these take periods of expansion in the U.S. economy and average rates of growth over these periods. Notice the patter? Why, yes, the average expansion-consistent rates of growth have fallen, steadily, since 1975 through today. Worse, controlling for volatile growth (average rates) in pre-1975 period, an exponential trend for average expansion-consistent growth rates (the yellow line) is solidly trending down.

The latest period of economic expansion is underperforming even that abysmal trend. And 1Q 2017 is underperforming that worse than abysmal average.

Now, let me highlight that point: yellow line only considers periods of consistent growth (omitting official recessions, and one unofficial recession of  2001). So, no: the depth of the Great Recession has nothing to do with the yellow line direction. If anything, given the depth of the 2008-2009 crisis, the most current grey bar should have been at around 4%, almost double where it sits today.

That is what makes the chart above the scariest chart of April. And will probably make it the scariest chart of May too.

9/2/16: Sales and Capex Weaknesses are Bad News for U.S. Jobs Growth

In a note from February 4, Moody Analytics have this two key messages about the U.S. economy, none pleasant:

  • Business sales are ‘mediocre’ outside energy sector, so that jobs growth singled by business sales outside energy sector should be slowing; and
  • Capex slowdown is about to smack jobs growth even further to the downside.

Take their numbers with a gulp of some oxygen.

Point 1: Business sales

The old-fashioned statistics don’t quite fudge stuff as well as the more modern hoopla about users, unique visits and signups deployed in the ICT sector. So here we go:

“Don’t fall into the trap of believing all is well outside of oil & gas. According to Bloomberg News, the 52% of the S&P 500 that has reported for 2015’s final quarter incurred over-year setbacks of -4.9% for sales and -5.7% for operating income. To a considerable degree, the declines were skewed lower by annual plunges of -34.2% for the sales and -64.2% for the operating profits of the latest sample’s 18 energy companies. For the 53% of the S&P 500’s non-energy companies that have reported for Q4-2015, sales barely rose by 0.6% annually, while the 2.6% increase by operating income fell considerably short of long-term profits growth of 6.5%.”

You’ve heard it right: in a recovery the U.S. is having, sales are up 0.6% y/y. Know of any real business that lives off something other than sales? I don’t.

Based on the Commerce Department broad estimate of business sales “that sums the sales of manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers. …even after excluding sales of identifiable energy products, what I refer to as core business sales posted annual increases of merely +2.1% for 2015 and +1.0% for Q4-2015”.

“…payrolls have been surprisingly resilient to the slowest growth by business sales excluding energy products since Q4-2009.” But, based on 3-mo average payrolls correlation with 12-mo average business sales data (estimated by Moody’s at 0.87), 2015 figures for sales suggest “…the average increase of private sector payrolls may descend from 2015’s 213,000 new jobs per month to 42,000 new jobs per month. Unless core business sales accelerate, 2016’s macro risks are most definitely to the downside.”

A handy chart:

Point 2: Capex headwind for jobs growth

“Business outlays on staff and capital spending are highly correlated. Over the past 33 years, the yearly percent change of payrolls revealed a strong correlation of 0.84 with the yearly percent change of real business investment spending.”

So, based on 2015 yearly increase in capital spending private sector payrolls “should have approximated 0.8% instead of the actual 1.9%. In other words, Q4-2015’s 1.6% yearly increase by real business investment spending favored a 91,000 average monthly increase by 2015’s payrolls, which was considerably less than the actual average monthly increase of 221,000 jobs.”

All of which puts into perspective what I wrote recently about the U.S. non farm payroll numbers here:

You really have to wonder, just how long can the U.S. economy continue raising the bar on additional bar staff hiring before choking on shortages of sales and capital investment?