Today brings both the US economy and monetary policy centre stage. The OECD has already weighed in on the subject this morning.
The COVID-19 outbreak has brought the longest economic expansion on record to a juddering halt. GDP
contracted by 5% in the first quarter at an annualised rate, and the unemployment rate has risen
precipitously. If there is another virus outbreak later in the year, GDP is expected to fall by over 8% in 2020
(the double-hit scenario). If, on the other hand, the virus outbreak subsides by the summer and further
lockdowns are avoided (the single-hit scenario), the impact on annual growth is estimated to be a percentage
Actually that is less than its view of many other countries. But of course we need to remind ourselves that the OECD is not a particularly good forecaster. Also we find that the official data has its quirks.
Total nonfarm payroll employment rose by 2.5 million in May, and the unemployment rate
declined to 13.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today……In May, employment rose sharply in leisure and hospitality, construction, education and health services, and retail trade. By contrast, employment
in government continued to decline sharply……….The unemployment rate declined by 1.4 percentage points to 13.3 percent in May, and the number of unemployed persons fell by 2.1 million to 21.0 million.
Those figures not only completely wrong footed the forecasters they nutmegged them as well in one of the most spectacular examples of this genre I have seen. I forget now if they were expecting a rise in unemployment of eight or nine million but either way you get the gist. We do not know where we are let alone where we are going although the Bureau of Labor Statistics did try to add some clarity.
If the workers who were recorded as employed but absent from work due to “other reasons” (over and above the number absent for other reasons in a typical May) had
been classified as unemployed on temporary layoff, the overall unemployment rate would have been about 3 percentage points higher than reported (on a not seasonally adjusted basis).
We learn more about the state of play from the New York Federal Reserve.
The New York Fed Staff Nowcast stands at -25.5% for 2020:Q2 and -12.0% for 2020:Q3. News from this week’s data releases increased the nowcast for 2020:Q2 by 10 percentage points and increased the nowcast for 2020:Q3 by 24.5 percentage points. Positive surprises from labor, survey, and international trade data drove most of the increase.
As you can see the labo(u)r market data blew their forecasts like a gale and leave us essentially with the view that there has been a large contraction but also a wide possible and indeed probable error range.
The Inflation Problem
We get the latest inflation data later after I publish this piece. But there is a problem with the mantra we are being told which is that there is no inflation. Something similar to the April reading of 0.3% is expected. So if we switch to the measure used by the US Federal Reserve which is based on Personal Consumption Expenditures the annual rate if we use our rule of thumb would in fact be slightly negative right now. On this basis Chair Powell and much of the media can say that all the monetary easing is justified.
But there are more than a few catches which change the picture. Let me start with the issues I raised concerning the Euro area yesterday where the numbers will be pushed downwards by a combination of the weights being (very) wrong, many prices being unavailable and the switch to online prices. It would seem that the ordinary person has been figuring this out for themselves.
The May 2020 Survey of Consumer Expectations shows small signs of improvement in households’ expectations compared to April. Median inflation expectations increased by 0.4 percentage point at the one-year horizon to 3.0 percent, and were unchanged at the three-year horizon at 2.6 percent. ( NY Fed Research from Monday)
It is revealing that they describe an increase in inflation that is already above target as an “improvement” is it not? But we see a complete shift as we leave the Ivory Towers and media palaces as the ordinary person surveyed expects a very different picture. Still the Ivory Towers can take some solace from the fact that inflation is in what they consider to be non-core areas.
Expected year-ahead changes in both food and gasoline prices displayed sharp increases for the second consecutive month and recorded series’ highs in May at 8.7% and 7.8%, respectively, in May.
Just for the avoidance of doubt I have turned my Irony meter beyond even the “turn up to 11” of the film Spinal Tap.
Central bankers will derive some cheer from the apparent improvement in perceptions about the housing market.
Median home price change expectations recovered slightly from its series’ low of 0% reached in April to 0.6% in May. The slight increase was driven by respondents who live in the West and Northeast Census regions.
More food for thought is provided in this area. If we switch to US Federal Reserve policy Chair Jerome Powell will tell us later that the taps are open and credit is flowing. But those surveyed have different ideas it would seem.
Perceptions of credit access compared to a year ago deteriorated for the third consecutive month, with 49.6% of respondents reporting credit to be harder to get today than a year ago (versus 32.1% in March and 48.0% in April). Expectations for year-ahead credit availability also worsened, with fewer respondents expecting credit will become easier to obtain.
I now want to shift to a subject which is not getting the attention it deserves. This is the growth in the money supply where the three monthly average for the narrow measure M1 has increased in annualised terms by 67.2% in the three months to the 25th of May. Putting that another way it has gone from a bit over US $4 trillion to over US $5 trillion over the past 3 months. That gives the monetary system quite a short-term shove the size of which we can put into context with this.
In April 2008, M1 was approximately $1.4 trillion, more than half of which consisted of currency. ( NY Fed)
Contrary to what we keep being told about the decline of cash it has grown quite a bit over this period as there is presently a bit over US $1.8 trillion in circulation.
Moving to the wider measure M2 we see a similar picture where the most recent three months measured grew by 40.6% compared to its predecessor in annualised terms. Or if you prefer it has risen from US $15.6 billion to US $18.1 billion. Again here is the historical perspective from April 2008.
M2 was approximately $7.7 trillion and largely consisted of savings deposits.
So here is a question for readers, where do you think all this money will go? Whilst you do so you might like to note this from the 2008 report I have quoted.
While as much as two-thirds of U.S. currency in circulation may be held outside the United States….
The Investing Channel
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