Tag Archives: economic growth

Monday Morning Outlook

Our favorite economist Brian Wesbury on the Economy:

GDP Growth Looking Good 

Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist
Robert Stein, Deputy Chief Economist
Date: 10/16/2017
Next week, government statisticians will release the first estimate for third quarter real GDP growth. In spite of hurricanes, and continued negativity by conventional wisdom, we expect 2.8% growth.

If we’re right about the third quarter, real GDP will be up 2.2% from a year ago, which is exactly equal to the growth rate since the beginning of this recovery back in 2009. Looking at these four-quarter or eight-year growth rates, many people argue that the economy is still stuck in the mud.

But, we think looking in the rearview mirror misses positive developments. The economy hasn’t turned into a thoroughbred, but the plowing is easier. Regulations are being reduced, federal employment growth has slowed (even declined) and monetary policy remains extremely loose with some evidence that a more friendly business environment is lifting monetary velocity.

Early signs suggest solid near 3% growth in the fourth quarter as well. Put it all together and we may be seeing an acceleration toward the 2.5 – 3.0% range for underlying trend economic growth. Less government interference frees up entrepreneurship and productivity growth powered by new technology. Yes, the Fed is starting to normalize policy and, yes, Congress can’t seem to legislate itself out of a paper bag, but fiscal and monetary policy together are still pointing toward a good environment for growth.

Here’s how we get to 2.8% for Q3.

Consumption: Automakers reported car and light truck sales rose at a 7.6% annual rate in Q3. “Real” (inflation-adjusted) retail sales outside the auto sector grew at a 2% rate, and growth in services was moderate. Our models suggest real personal consumption of goods and services, combined, grew at a 2.3% annual rate in Q3, contributing 1.6 points to the real GDP growth rate (2.3 times the consumption share of GDP, which is 69%, equals 1.6).

Business Investment: Looks like another quarter of growth in overall business investment in Q3, with investment in equipment growing at about a 9% annual rate, investment in intellectual property growing at a trend rate of 5%, but with commercial constriction declining for the first time this year. Combined, it looks like they grew at a 4.9% rate, which should add 0.6 points to the real GDP growth. (4.9 times the 13% business investment share of GDP equals 0.6).

Home Building: Home building was likely hurt by the major storms in Q3 and should bounce back in the fourth quarter and remain on an upward trend for at least the next couple of years. In the meantime, we anticipate a drop at a 2.6% annual rate in Q3, which would subtract from the real GDP growth rate. (-2.6 times the home building share of GDP, which is 4%, equals -0.1).

Government: Military spending was up in Q3 but public construction projects were soft for the quarter. On net, we’re estimating that real government purchases were down at a 1.2% annual rate in Q3, which would subtract 0.2 points from the real GDP growth rate. (1.2 times the government purchase share of GDP, which is 17%, equals -0.2).

Trade: At this point, we only have trade data through August. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like net exports should subtract 0.2 points from the real GDP growth rate in Q3.

Inventories: We have even less information on inventories than we do on trade, but what we have so far suggests companies are stocking shelves and showrooms at a much faster pace in Q3 than they were in Q2, which should add 1.1 points to the real GDP growth rate.

More data this week – on industrial production, durable goods, trade deficits, and inventories – could change our forecast. But, for now, we get an estimate of 2.8%. Not bad at all.

I like the way he puts it: The economy hasn’t turned into a thoroughbred, but the plowing is easier.

 

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Good News on the Economic Front

Our favorite economist, Brian Wesbury of First Trust has a new note out that we wanted to share.

While the Sunday morning talk shows discuss the number of Civil War monuments that can dance on the head of a pin…and a rare Eclipse grabs focus…investors might be shocked at how the economy has accelerated.

Although we still have more than a month left in the third quarter, and many more pieces of data to come, as of August 16th the Atlanta Fed’s “GDP Now” model, which tracks and estimates real GDP growth, says the economy is expanding at a 3.8% annual rate in Q3.  If correct, that would be the fastest pace for any quarter since 2014.

We usually take forecasts this early with a grain of salt.  After all, a lot can happen over the remainder of the quarter.  And, on some prior occasions, the Atlanta Fed has projected rapid growth for a quarter mid-way through, only to ratchet back the forecast by quarter-end to a more pedestrian Plow Horse growth rate near 2%.  But, in this particular case, we think the pick-up is real.  In fact, our own internal forecast suggests the exact same growth rate of 3.8%.

One thing more pessimistic analysts are focusing on is that “inventories” are adding about 1% to the third quarter growth rate.  It looks like businesses are stocking shelves at a more normal pace after the lull in the first half of the year.  Excluding this inventory boost, First Trust models have real GDP growing at a 2.4% annual rate in Q3, while the Atlanta Fed model has it at 2.8%.

It’s hard to remember that the original report for Q1 real GDP was less than 1% growth.  That report worried many investors, and doom and gloom stories abounded.  But the foundation for continued economic growth remains in place.

It’s true that the US is unlikely to see tax cuts or real tax reform (or both!) anytime this year.  And this will make sustaining GDP growth at a 3.8% rate very difficult.  But we expect favorable changes in tax policy by early next year.  All that said, the best news is any threat of growth-harming tax hikes remains virtually nil.

Meanwhile, the one area of clear improvement in economic policy under President Trump has been regarding regulation.  The issuance of new rules that slow growth has basically stopped, while harmful old rules are getting rolled back or being reviewed for reform.  This alone can help push growth up by ¼ to ½ percentage point on an annual basis.

In addition, monetary policy remains very loose.  Short-term interest rates are still well below “normal” and there are over $2 trillion in excess reserves in the banking system.  We still expect another rate hike this year, and it seems clear that the Fed will begin slowly reducing the size of its bloated balance sheet.  Assuming the Fed starts balance sheet normalization on October 1st, their $4.4 trillion-dollar balance sheet would shrink by a measly 0.7% by year-end.  This takes the Fed from running a super-easy monetary policy to a very, very easy monetary policy.  In other words, any threat from tight money is remote.

Trade protectionism was the biggest threat to the economy as the new Trump Administration took office, but so far, there’s been a great deal more rhetoric than action on this front.  We remain confident that President Trump realizes a true lurch into protectionist policies would risk a drop in the stock market and would make it harder to meet his goal of faster economic growth.  Protectionist promises are much easier to break (or just ignore), when the unemployment rate is moving toward 4%.  Instead, expect the president to pivot toward trying to get better enforcement of intellectual property rights from China and an open market in oil and gas exports.

We constantly warn investors that one quarter, or one month, of economic data is meaningless.  So far, the Plow Horse has not morphed into a thoroughbred.  However, good news tends to lead to more good news and momentum is building.

Better economic growth means better profit growth and better profit growth will help push stocks higher.  Our 2017 end-of-year forecast of 2,700 for the S&P 500 and 23,500 for the Dow Jones Industrial Average remains in place.  Risks to growth remain low, and the chance of an acceleration remains positive as third quarter data is suggesting.

 

 

 

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Don’t believe the doom and gloom about the economy.

The invaluable Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust, recently made some interesting comments about the economy.

First, there are the employment statistics:

The best news for the consumer is that the labor market continues to heal. At 4.4%, the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2007. Some watch what they call the “true” unemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers as well as part-timers who claim they’d prefer full-time jobs – that’s 8.6%, also the lowest since 2007. Meanwhile, wages and salaries are up 5.5% in the past year, outstripping inflation.

Meanwhile the average American has reduced his debt burden to levels not seen since the early 1980s.  While student loans have reached record levels and auto loans delinquencies have grown, consumer debt has dropped by 50% since the end of 2009.

Finally, consumers have changed their buying patterns.  They are shifting their buying to the Internet and away from brick-and-mortar stores.  Some of the old-line retailers are experiencing sales and profitability problems even as a company like Amazon is building physical stores.

We remain in the midst of a technological revolution.  Stay alert and very nimble.

If you want to learn how to navigate your way through the shoals and rapids of the investment river, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

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The Trump Trade after three months.

The election of Donald Trump was followed by what many called “The Trump Trade.”  Based on the promises made by Trump during the campaign: to lower taxes and reduce regulations – two factors that inhibit economic growth – the stock market rose sharply.  But it’s going to take time and a lot of hard bargaining to actually get to the point where real economic benefits result.

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust:

As we wrote three months ago, it’s going to take much more than animal spirits to lift economic growth from the sluggish pace of the past several years. Measures of consumer and business confidence continue to perform much better than before the election. But where the economic rubber hits the road, in terms of actual production not so much.  It looks like real GDP growth will clock in at a 1.3% annual rate in the first quarter.

He says that we still have a “Plow Horse Economy” and it will take time to unhitch the plow and saddle up the “Racehorse.”

Trump has signed a number of executive orders that will have an impact on regulation, but the bureaucracy is still staffed with the last administration’s appointees and the pace of approving new appointments is glacially slow.

Waiting is the hardest part.

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The Plow Horse is Dead – Long Live the Race Horse

Race horse

We have referred to the economy over the last decade as the “Plow Horse Economy.”  There has been a huge increase in technology available to the economy over that period of time.  “Fracking” has unlocked huge oil and gas reserves in the energy sector.  The “Internet of Things” is tying our appliances together, automating our homes, even allowing us to control them with voice commands.  Self-driving cars are becoming a reality faster than I believed possible.  3D printing is revolutionizing production processes.  Yet despite this dazzling technological revolution, the economy is only managing 1.2% GDP growth.

Why?

Many analysts believe that if we compare the economy to a horse, we have a thoroughbred economy that’s plodding along like a Plow Horse.  The problem is that the rider is too heavy.    That rider is the government.  It’s holding growth down.  In the year 2000 government was 17.6% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  In 2016 it was 21.1% of GDP, an increase of 20%.  That’s a big move from the private sector to the public sector.

Keep in mind that government doesn’t manufacture anything.

On top of that, government today regulates virtually everything, generating a hidden cost to producers and consumers.  Some analysts think it’s a miracle that the economy actually grew despite increased borrowing, taxes and regulation.

The incoming Trump administration has a staunchly pro-business agenda.  The focus on jobs and economic growth is front and center.  A new executive order instructs federal agencies to halt the issuance of more regulations, and the new President has indicated a desire to reduce them by 75%.   Another executive order has frozen hiring of federal employees, opening the door to replacing government employees with technology, something that has happened in the private sector.  Yet other executive actions advance the approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines – using American steel – creating new high-paying construction jobs and indicating an interest in making America energy independent.  Reducing tax rates, especially the high corporate tax rate, is another Trump administration objective.  It’s the carrot to encourage companies to build here, even as he waves the stick of high tariffs for goods brought in from overseas.  It’s getting a respectful hearing from otherwise skeptical business leaders.

These actions are not going to be enough, but they are indications that the new administration is determined to streamline government and incentivize private industry to grow.  According to Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust, the earning per share of the S&P 500 is estimated to be $130, an increase of 20% in 2017.  Growth in earnings of that magnitude can justify an increase in market valuations and add a few percentage points to the annual GDP.

To get back to our horse analogy, it looks as if the jockey riding the horse will be put on a diet.  If that happens the thoroughbred who was a “Plow Horse”  may become a “Race Horse.”

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Economic Growth Does Not Kill People – The Opposite is the Case

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, noted that members of the elite press are telling the people that they had better get used to slow growth.  That economic growth actually kills people.

Two weekend articles, in major US newspapers, left us shaking our heads. The Washington Post wrote that “economic growth actually kills people,” while The Wall Street Journal published a piece saying, ironically, we should get used to slow growth – it’s normal.

Both are ridiculous.

First, The Washington Post cited statistical studies that blame premature death on economic growth (more pollution, more work and more risk).

The statisticians found that pollution and alcohol were the #1 and #2 causes of death as economic growth accelerated. We couldn’t help but think about the Soviet Union, where pollution and alcoholism were rampant in the 1970s and 1980s, but economic growth was non-existent. Economic growth does not cause pollution; to say it does is a red herring. The air in Boston was much worse in the 1800s when wood-burning fireplaces were used to heat homes. Public health was a serious problem before sewage systems and water purification.

 

 The articles in the Post and the Wall Street Journal try to make the case that Americans need to forget about growth.  Rather, the government should focus on making the social safety net bigger, on rule-making, and making everyone more “equal.”  In fact, we are told that growth is a killer.

Evidence of the opposite exists.  Stagnating wages and loss of jobs in this country has been followed by alcoholism and rampant use of heavy-duty drugs like heroin, leading to an increase in premature deaths in America’s heartland.

There is no reason why the American economic engine cannot be revved up to the benefit of all.

Roughly 70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending.  The return of good paying jobs to communities thoroughly the country would result in a significant surge of economic growth.  And by good paying jobs we are not referring to the jobs created by the internet economy on the East or West Coasts.  The jobs produced by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet based “infotainment” companies produce great wealth for their creators but no actual consumer product.  What has surprised many economists – but should not have – is that they have not produced nearly the number of jobs that were predicted.  Meanwhile, industries that produce actual goods that people need to live – food, clothing, housing, fuel, medicine, cars – industries that once produced good paying jobs – are being outsourced or automated.

The country needs to focus on this issue or face increasing unrest among people who feel disrespected and marginalized.  Reviving American industries – in America – can be the spark that leads to a better future for everyone.

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Bond yields worldwide under 1%

Bank of America said that 45% of all government bonds worldwide yield less than 1%. Central bankers from around the world meet today to find a way of spurring economic growth. Most have adopted a low interest rate strategy. That’s good for stocks, but it’s devastating for savers who are making less than zero once inflation and taxes are factored in.

Speculation that the European Central Bank will start buying debt in the year ahead pushed German 10-year yields to a record low of 0.866 percent last week. The rally helped drive demand for Treasuries and other notes as investors sought higher interest payments than they can get in Europe.

“No one’s talking about rate hikes in Europe for several years,”

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