September 2009 looks much better than September 2008.
We've certainly heard everyone and her mother say we're climbing out of recession. Shall we take a look and see whether everyone is actually right?
For the purposes of comparison, we'll compare the data available thus far in 2009 with the full year of 2008.
Industrial output has averaged 97.4 over the first seven months of this year, with July actually showing upward movement for the first time this year, probably due in large part to the "cash for clunkers" program. 2008 industrial output averaged 109.6, however, so we're still down over 11% year-over-year.
The percentage of manufacturing capacity we are using has averaged 69.4% this year through July. (Full capacity is generally thought to be 84%.) Last year's was 78.3%, so here again we're down over 11%. The good news, however, is that capacity utilization has been climbing upward for five straight months.
II. Gross Domestic Product
It is generally thought that an economy our size can grow at 2.8% per year at full employment without causing inflation. In 2007, the US economy grew at 2.5%. In 2008, our economy contracted by 1.8%. In the first two quarters of 2009, GDP was -6.4% and -1%, respectively. Most economists predict flat to 2% growth in the third quarter of this year.
Last July, we looked at historic unemployment data http://womensfinancialplanning.blogspot.com/2009/07/unemployment.html and saw that unemployment generally begins to improve about one year after a recession ends. 2008 unemployment levels averaged 5.76% and this year, 8.77%. We can conclude, based on these data, that unemployment will begin to improve in the third quarter of 2010.
2010, however, is a mid-term election year, and this issue has already begun to be politicized. For that reason, the current Congress may approve an additional stimulus package aimed at improving the unemployment outlook, and, in doing so, their re-election prospects. From a strictly economic perspective, this seemingly unnecessary expenditure, and additional deficit to be added to the burgeoning national debt, would seem to be a mistake.
But, I never underestimate the lengths to which our esteemed members of Congress will go to be re-elected, so I consider an additional stimulus to be a needless, but likely event.
IV. Consumer Confidence
As you have undoubtedly heard, 2/3 of US GDP is consumer spending. As you have undoubtedly experienced, consumers are somewhat less confident than they were before this recession. To validate your feelings, consumer confidence was 103.49 in 2007, 56.76 in 2008 and, thus far in 2009, is 39.89.
Before we assume that all is lost for any potential growth in GDP owing to our cautious consumers, please take a look at the often ignored export situation, discussed recently http://womensfinancialplanning.blogspot.com/2009/07/wuvl-shape-of-our-upcoming-recovery.html
Should the hypothesis that newly enriched emerging markets will spend their dough on our exports, we may have a growth engine that could replace our previous non-stop, debt-riddled spending spree with something more sustainable.
From 1973 to 1995, inflation averaged 2.8%. Most economists believe that 2.5% inflation allows sustainable economic growth and full employment. In 2007, inflation averaged 2.87%. In 2007, inflation rose to 3.85%. This year, with falling energy prices due to lessening demand, as well as consumer entrenchment in nearly all categories, inflation is .33%.
This is undeniably good news, which, of course, I will turn into something scary. At no time in history has the government printed money to the extent it has now and NOT caused inflation. History tells us it is coming, but it's not here yet.
VI. Business Inventories
When businesses are humming along, inventories used to build up in anticipation of happy consumers. Those days are over, for two reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that consumers are scared. So scared, in fact, that they're SAVING money. Weird.
Second, businesses have gotten smart. They operate as close to a build on demand model as possible, i.e., they don't build your thingamabob until you order it.
That said, however, inventories have fallen by over 6% - after building up for six straight years. They are low, and falling. When demand does return, which I believe it will through exports, then inventory buildup will help boost economic growth.
All these indicators are pointing positive. It's been so long since we've had good economic news, we hardly recognize it when it shows up, but there it is.
The worst is over. Let's hope we keep our heads on straight and stay the course without succumbing to political pressure that will cause us to make poor economic decisions.