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December 16, 2011

Maybe this time was at least a little different?

Earlier this week, Derek Thomson, a senior editor at The Atlantic, began his article "The Graph That Proves Economic Forecasters Are Almost Always Wrong" with some observations that don't really require a graph:

"As the saying goes: 'It's hard to make predictions. Especially about the future.' Thirty years ago, it was obvious to everybody that oil prices would keep going up forever. Twenty years ago, it was obvious that Japan would own the 21st century. Ten years ago, it was obvious that our economic stewards had mastered a kind of thermostatic control over business cycles to prevent great recessions. We were wrong, wrong, and wrong."

In a recent speech, Dennis Lockhart—whom most of you recognize as president here at the Atlanta Fed—offered his own thoughts on why forecasts can go so wrong:

"… you may wonder why forecasters, the Fed included, don't do a better job. To answer this question, let me suggest three reasons why forecasts may be off.

"While it's relatively trivial in my view, the first reason involves missing the timing of economic activity. An example of that was mentioned earlier when I explained that GDP for the third quarter had been revised down while the fourth quarter is expected to compensate.

"A second reason that forecasts miss the mark is, in everyday language, stuff happens.

"To be a little more precise, unforeseen developments are a fact of life. In my view, the energy and commodity shocks early in the year had a significant impact on growth in the first half of 2011. The tsunami-related supply disruptions, though temporary, were an exacerbating factor. In fact, a lot of shocks or disruptions are quite temporary and don't cause one to rethink the narrative about where the economy is likely going.

"Which brings me to the third reason why economic prognostications go off track: we, as forecasters, simply get the bigger story wrong.

"What I mean by getting the bigger story wrong is failing to understand the fundamentals at work in the economy."

"Getting the bigger story wrong" is Simon Potter's theme in the New York Fed's Liberty Street Economics blog post, "The Failure to Forecast the Great Recession":

"Looking through our briefing materials and other sources such as New York Fed staff reports reveals that the Bank's economic research staff, like most other economists, were behind the curve as the financial crisis developed, even though many of our economists made important contributions to the understanding of the crisis. Three main failures in our real-time forecasting stand out:

1.  Misunderstanding of the housing boom …

2. A lack of analysis of the rapid growth of new forms of mortgage finance …

3. Insufficient weight given to the powerful adverse feedback loops between the financial system and the real economy …


"However, the biggest failure was the complacency resulting from the apparent ease of maintaining financial and economic stability during the Great Moderation."

Potter does not implicate any of his Federal Reserve brethren, but you can add me to the roll call of those having made each of the mistakes on the list.

Should we have known? A powerful narrative that we should have has taken hold. The boom-bust cycle associated with large bouts of asset appreciation and debt accumulation has a long history in economics, and the theme has been pressed home in its most recent incarnation by the work of Carmen Reinhart and coauthors, including the highly influential book written with Kenneth Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.

Unfortunately, even seemingly compelling historical evidence is not always so clear cut. An illustration of this, relevant to the failure to forecast the Great Recession, was provided in a paper by Enrique Mendoza and Marco Terrones (from the University of Maryland and the International Monetary Fund, respectively), presented last month at a Central Bank of Chile conference, "Capital Mobility and Monetary Policy." What the paper puts forward is described by Mendoza and Terrones as follows:

"… in Mendoza and Terrones (2008) we proposed a new methodology for measuring and identifying credit booms and showed that it was successful in identifying credit boom events with a clear cyclical pattern in both macro and micro data.

"The method we proposed is a 'thresholds method.' This method works by first splitting real credit per capita in each country into its cyclical and trend components, and then identifying a credit boom as an episode in which credit exceeds its long-run trend by more than a given 'boom' threshold, defined in terms of a tail probability event… The key defining feature of this method is that the thresholds are proportional to each country's standard deviation of credit over the business cycle. Hence, credit booms reflect 'unusually large' cyclical credit expansions."

And here is what they find:

"In this paper, we apply this method to data for 61 countries (21 industrialized countries, ICs, and 40 emerging market economies, EMs), over the 1960-2010 period. We found a total of 70 credit booms, 35 in ICs and 35 in EMs, including 16 credit booms that peaked in the critical period surrounding the recent financial crisis between 2007 and 2010 (again with about half of these recent booms in ICs and EMs each)…

"The results show that credit booms are associated with periods of economic expansion, rising equity and housing prices, real appreciation and widening external deficits in the upswing of the booms, followed by the opposite dynamics in the downswing."

That certainly sounds familiar, and supports the "we should have known" meme. But the full facts are a little trickier. Mendoza and Terrones continue:

"A major deviation in the evidence reported here relative to our previous findings in Mendoza and Terrones (2008) is that adding the data from the recent credit booms and crisis we find that in fact credit booms in ICs and EMs are more similar than different. In contrast, in our earlier work we found differences in the magnitudes of credit booms, the size of the macroeconomic fluctuations associated with credit booms, and the likelihood that they are followed by banking or currency crises.

"… while not all credit booms end in crisis, the peaks of credit booms are often followed by banking crises, currency crises of Sudden Stops, and the frequency with which this happens is about the same for EMs and ICs (20 to 25 percent for banking and currency for banking crisis, 14 percent for Sudden Stops)."

Their notion still supports the case of the "we should have known" camp, but here's the rub (emphasis mine):

"This is a critical change from our previous findings, because lacking substantial evidence from all the recent booms and crises, we had found only 9 percent frequency of banking crises after credit booms for EMs and zero for ICs, and 14 percent frequency of currency crises after credit booms for EMs v. 31 percent for ICs."

In other words, based on this particular evidence, we should have been looking for a run on the dollar, not a banking crisis. What we got, of course, was pretty much the opposite.

No excuses here. Speaking only for myself, I had the story wrong. But the conclusion to that story is a lot clearer now than it was in the middle of the tale.

David AltigBy Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

 

December 16, 2011 in Business Cycles, Financial System, Forecasts | Permalink

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When your currency is the global reserve currency, there is nothing
available in sufficient size to run TO. Therefore, a run ON the dollar
was an impossibility. The ONLY other possibility was the only one remaining, a run on the Banking System.

Posted by: Robert K | December 18, 2011 at 01:13 PM

Indeed, you can't predict economic events. No kidding.

However, that fact means you must also give up attempts to control the economy.

If you cannot predict any future, how do you navigate to one particular desired future?

There is no actual evidence over 50-year periods that any country has successfully done so. Economists have destroyed a lot of countries in their attempts, however.

Abolish the Fed.

Posted by: Lew Glendenning | December 18, 2011 at 08:51 PM

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September 08, 2011

Another cut at the postrecession job picture

There is not much to be said about the August employment report released last Friday—or not much good, anyway. The ongoing updates at Calculated Risk provide a chronicle of the questions and challenges that have characterized the postrecession period. An exhaustive set of graphs are spread across several posts, here, here, and here. The last post in the series focused on construction employment specifically and includes this observation, which is based on the addition of 26,000 construction jobs in 2011 through August:

"After five consecutive years of job losses for residential construction (and four years for total construction), this is a baby step in the right direction. However there will not be a strong increase in residential construction until the excess supply of housing is absorbed."

Given the likely pace of turnaround in the housing market, that sounds like a problem. It is not much surprise that employment in the construction sector is, and likely will continue to be, significantly weaker than it was before the recession. Can the same be said of most other sectors? The following chart shows pre- and postrecession, cross-sector average monthly changes in payroll employment, broadly defined according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' classifications. For reference, the size of the circles in the chart reflect the relative prerecession size of the sector in terms of employment.


A few points:

  • The 45-degree line represents points where average monthly employment changes before the recession (from December 2001 through November 2007, precisely) are exactly the same as the average changes after the recession (July 2009 through August 2011). Consistent with the slow pace of overall employment growth during this recovery, the majority of circles representing different sectors lie below the 45-degree line.
  • In general, the pattern of circles is such that those sectors with relatively high employment changes prerecession are those that have exhibited relatively high changes during the recovery. In other words, we have not yet seen a widespread reshuffling of cross-sectoral employment trends outside of the recession. For example, employment changes in the education and health care sector led the pack before the recession, and that sector has led the pack thus far in the recovery. At the opposite end of the scale, job growth in the information sector has remained on a negative trend in the recovery period, just as it was prior to the recession.
  • I want to note a few exceptions to the preceding observation, which discusses the sectors with relatively high employment changes before the recession being the same ones that exhibited relatively high changes during the recovery. As noted, employment in the construction sector is well off its prerecession pace. What may be less appreciated is the fact that manufacturing employment, outside of the motor vehicles and auto parts sector, has experienced monthly employment gains that are better than the prerecession rate. Employment in the government sector, on the other hand, has noticeably flipped from positive to negative. This shift is also true of job growth in the financial activities sector, though the change is less dramatic than in the government sector.


Manufacturing and government represent relatively big shares of employment. Including motor vehicles and parts, manufacturing payroll employment was over 11 percent of total U.S. jobs for the period from 2002 through 2007. Government employment was about 16.5 percent (and had the largest single share of sectoral employment in the breakdown used in the chart above). The bad news in the big picture is that the better performance in manufacturing job creation is really a shift from negative job creation in the prerecession period to zero job creation in the postrecession period. And as for government employment, it seems unlikely that the forces will soon align to move job growth in the public sector back into positive territory. (The same could probably be said of financial activities employment.)

I am not pushing any particular interpretation of these facts, but a couple of questions come to mind. Will non-auto manufacturing employment revert to the contracting trend in place prior to the recession? Will employment in the financial activities and government sectors continue to shrink? If so, will these jobs be absorbed by increased employment in other sectors, and how long will that take?

David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

 

September 8, 2011 in Data Releases, Employment, Forecasts, Labor Markets | Permalink

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Dave: Can you create a similar graph that measures not number of employed but % of income going to each of those sectors?

Posted by: bryan byrne | September 10, 2011 at 08:30 AM

It's not that hard to figure this out. In 1928, the average workweek was 48 hours. In 1935, the average workweek was 40 hours.

Work is finite and shrinks over time in a productive economy. The 40-hour workweek was the coarse-grained tool to enforce an equality between production and consumption, and government employment has been the fine-grained tool to keep it balanced since 1929.

The only true fix for current situation is to reset the coarse-grained tool to 36 or 32-hour week, which will reset the fine-grained tool.

Posted by: Broward Horne | September 10, 2011 at 01:07 PM

I hope you guys are paying attention:

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-5rxDm-_8-0I/TnmNJYKW4wI/AAAAAAAAAA8/zhetiAWZL9s/s1600/SPXvsTIPSBetas.bmp

The SPX - TIPS spread beta is a credible tool for resisting calls for more inflation in scenarios that Volker imagines, and for resisting inflation hawks in scenarios like... right now. The policy rule suggested is: Hold the beta near zero. Unlike inflation targeting, the beta has no sharp thresholds - you can under or overshoot slightly without killing people.

I'm putting this here both because it's your most recent post, and because it's a post about structural nonsense. Current economic conditions would require completely fantastic frictions to explain structurally. So people talk in vague ways about employee education, or an overburden of housing inventory. If houses are so plentiful, why does everyone I know rent or live with their parents? It's completely ridiculous. Then you have (as far as I understand it) a sterilized intervention like Twist. Newsflash: sterilized interventions can't do anything at the zero bound. Only inflation can.

Posted by: Carl Lumma | September 26, 2011 at 01:59 PM

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August 26, 2011

Lots of ground to cover: An update

If you have to discuss a difficult circumstance, I guess Jackson Hole, Wyo., is as nice as place as any to do so. This morning, as most folks know by now, Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke reiterated the reason that most Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) members support the expectation that policy rates will remain low for the next couple of years:

"In light of its current outlook, the Committee recently decided to provide more specific forward guidance about its expectations for the future path of the federal funds rate. In particular, in the statement following our meeting earlier this month, we indicated that economic conditions—including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run—are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013. That is, in what the Committee judges to be the most likely scenarios for resource utilization and inflation in the medium term, the target for the federal funds rate would be held at its current low levels for at least two more years."

There are two pieces of information that emphasize the economy's recent weakness and potential slow growth going forward. The first is this week's revised forecasts and potential for gross domestic product (GDP) from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the second is today's revision of second quarter GDP from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Though estimates of potential GDP have not greatly changed, the CBO's downgrade in forecasts and BEA's report of much lower than potential growth in the second quarter have the current and prospective rates of resource utilization lower than when macroblog covered the issue just about a month ago.

Key to the CBO's estimates is a reasonably good outlook for GDP growth after we get past 2012:

"For the 2013–2016 period, CBO projects that real GDP will grow by an average of 3.6 percent a year, considerably faster than potential output. That growth will bring the economy to a high rate of resource use (that is, completely close the gap between the economy's actual and potential output) by 2017."

The margin for slippage, though, is not great. Assuming that GDP ends 2011 having grown by about 2.3 percent—as projected by the CBO—here's a look at gaps between actual and potential GDP for different, seemingly plausible growth rates:


Attaining 3.5 percent growth by next year moves the CBO's date for closing the output gap up by about a year. On the other hand, a fall in output growth to an average of 3 percent per year moves the date for eliminating resource slack back to 2020. If growth remains below that—well, let's hope it doesn't.

David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

 

August 26, 2011 in Business Cycles, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Forecasts, Saving, Capital, and Investment | Permalink

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«economic conditions—including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run—are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through mid-2013.»

The exceptionally low funding rates to financial intermediaries are not resulting in equally low rates for customers of those intermediaries, because the Fed has repeatedly hinted that they want to rebuild the balance sheet of the finance sector boosting their profits by granting them a huge spread (and hoping that at least half of those profits go into capital instead of bonuses).

Bernanke's statement then may be interpreted as saying that the Fed does expects the financial sector to need another several years of extra profits resulting from the Fed "subsidy" because the finance sector seem unlikely to be able to make any profit if market conditions prevailed, and indeed it seems that the capital position of many finance sector "national champions" is still weak considering the cosmetically hidden capital losses they have.

As to inflation, wage inflation is indeed well contained (wages are declining in real terms) even if cost of living inflation seems pretty rampant; in a similar country like the UK where indices are less "massaged" the RPI has been running at over 5% and on an increasing trend:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-14538167

Posted by: Blissex | August 26, 2011 at 05:28 PM

Why can't the Federal Reserve tell the public the obvious: Growth will only come about by hiring people with livable wages.

If we don't raise incomes nationally we will be forced to liquidate on a massive scale. It doesn't matter who does the hiring, just that it is done.

It isn't the deficit. It isn't the debt. It's the incomes, stupid.

Posted by: beezer | August 27, 2011 at 06:10 AM

Ken Rogoff says 3-5 years of 1-2% GDP and Carmen Reinhart thinks 5-6 years of 2%. =(

Posted by: DarkLayers | August 27, 2011 at 11:19 PM

In terms of econometrics, annual increment of real GDP per capita is constant over time http://mechonomic.blogspot.com/2011/08/revised-gdp-estimates-support-model-of.html . Therefore, the rate of real GDP per capita growth has to decay as a reciprocal function of the attained level of GDP per capita. The exponential component in the overall GDP is fully related to population growth which has been around 1% per year in the U.S. Currently, the rate of population growth falls and the trajectory of the overall GDP lags behind the projection which includes 1% population growth. If to look at the per head estimates, there is no gap between "potential" and observed levels.
In no case should an economist mix the growth in population and real economic growth.

Posted by: kio | August 28, 2011 at 04:03 AM

It's going to be a long time. Do you know how hard it will be for a person to live in the same town for 30 years?

Our money game will need new rules because 30 years at the same job/house/town is over.

But once that issue is fixed, watch out. Technologically America is so far ahead that earning a 100k(todays $$) salary can be done in 6 months.

To keep the NYC banks from leeching on it will be a task.

Posted by: FormerSSResident | August 31, 2011 at 07:00 PM

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August 15, 2011

The GDP revisions: What changed?

Prior to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis's (BEA) benchmark gross domestic product (GDP) revisions announced three Fridays ago, we were devoting a fair amount of space—here, in particular—to picking apart some of the patterns in the data over the course of the recovery. Ahh, the best-laid plans. As noted in a speech today from Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart:

"It's been an eventful two weeks, to say the least. Let's now look ahead. The $64,000 question is what's the outlook from here?...


"Whether we're seeing a temporary soft patch in an otherwise gradually improving growth picture or a deeper and more persistent slowdown, most of the arriving economic data lately have caused forecasters to write down their projections. Also, and importantly, the Bureau of Economic Analysis in the Department of Commerce has revised earlier economic growth numbers. These revisions paint a different picture of the depth of the recession and the relative strength of the recovery."


Beyond keeping the record straight, revisiting the charts from our previous posts in light of the new GDP data is a key input into answering President Lockhart's $64,000 question. Here, then, is that story, at least in part.

1. Even ignoring the depth of the recession, the first two years of this recovery have been slow relative to the early phases of the past two recoveries.

I wasn't so sure this was the case to be made prior to the new statistics from the BEA, but the revisions made clear that, while still broadly similar to the slower growth pattern of the prior two recoveries, the GDP performance has been pretty easily the slowest of all.

Real GDP

2. Consumption growth has been especially weak in this recovery, and the pattern of consumer spending has been more concentrated in consumer durables than has been the case in prior business cycles.

Change in consumption expenditures

The consumer spending piece of this puzzle has President Lockhart's attention:

"I'm most concerned about the effect of the wild stock market on consumer spending. Volatility alone could have a negative impact on consumer psychology at a time of already weakening spending. Last Friday, it was reported that the University of Michigan's Survey of Consumer Sentiment fell sharply in early August to its lowest level in more than 30 years. Furthermore, if the loss of stock market value persists, the effect from the loss of investment value could combine with the loss of value in home prices to discourage consumers more and longer."


On the bright side, the GDP revisions did not of themselves alter the household spending picture. Though the benchmark revisions contained significant changes in consumer spending, those changes were concentrated during the recession in 2008 and 2009. Personal consumption expenditures were actually revised upward from 2009 on, with the big negative changes coming in net exports and government spending:

GDP revisions

Are there other rays of hope? I might add this:

3. The revisions show that the momentum that seemed to fade through 2010 was more apparent in total GDP than in final demand. In other words, the basic storyline—a good start to 2010 with a soft patch in the middle and a stronger finish—still emerges if you look through changes in inventories.

Pattern of final demand

That observation does not, of course, help salve the pain of the very anemic first half of this year. Nonetheless (from Lockhart, again):

"At the Atlanta Fed, we have revised down our near and intermediate gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast, but we are holding to the view that the economy will continue to grow at a very modest pace. In other words, we do not expect the onset of outright contraction—a recession—but I have to say the risk of recession is higher than we perceived a month or two ago...


"The rapid-fire developments of the last several days, along with some troubling data releases, have shaken confidence. People are worried. Investors, Main Street businessmen and women, and consumers are wondering which way things will tip. The public—and for that matter, policymakers—are operating in a fog of uncertainty that is thicker than normal."


That fog of uncertainty was made thicker by the GDP revisions, and thicker yet by the volatility that followed. But I would still pass along this advice from President Lockhart:

"At this juncture, we should not jump to conclusions. A clearer picture of economic reality will be revealed in time as immediate uncertainties dissipate. It's premature, in my view, to declare these important questions relating to our economic future settled."


David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

August 15, 2011 in Business Cycles, Economic Growth and Development, Forecasts, Saving, Capital, and Investment | Permalink

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I think it is important to remember that the BEA only has comprehensive data on income and consumer spending in 2009 and earlier. With this annual revision they folded in mandatory census like surveys on retail trade and services. On the income side they incorporated IRS tax return data which led to substantially lower estimates of asset income. Data from the Michigan survey suggests that the current estimates of personal income in 2010 and later might be overstated. The BEA does a very important job as best they can, but the source data is slow to roll in. We probably have a good picture of the recession now, but the recovery is still a work in progress in the NIPAs. In my opinion, if you want to understand the slow recovery in consumer spending...look at the income expectations (or lack thereof) in the Michigan survey.

Posted by: Claudia Sahm | August 16, 2011 at 04:48 AM

Interesting, as always. I'd like to see point 2 done for fixed investment, too.

Posted by: Dave Backus | August 16, 2011 at 05:37 PM

I think we should not begin to accept the pace of recovery in the last two recessions as a "new normal." The last two recessions have featured very little fiscal stimulus, and increasing emphasis on monetary means. Also, what fiscal stimulus there has been is of dubious value, particularly some of the tax policy measures.

These observations reflect a transition from a political economic theory that government spending should fill the gap created by falling consumer and business spending during times of recession to a political economic theory based accounting (i.e., that spending should not exceed revenues). The latter is leading to larger and larger output gaps, and will eventually lead to permanent recession.

This is why it should not be accepted as the "new normal."

Posted by: Charles | August 17, 2011 at 11:02 AM

Looks like the market is now firmly the master. Everybody has become an economist, we elect an Economist for Governors and Presidents, because we have lost control. The Tea Party is a reaction to this, a desperate one.

If the Fed/America can't re-gain control, someone else will.

Posted by: FormerSSresident | August 17, 2011 at 01:43 PM

Inventories are no longer helping and government will be a drag. It is difficult to see where growth comes from in this environment.
We should measure private sector GDP (without Government) as it is the engine that must support the economy and the government.
The economy has been off track for some 15 years as consumer debt has been the engine and that source is over. Debt is a burden and it should not be used for basic consumption or stimulus. All it does is remove future growth. We are in for a sustained period of slow growth.

Posted by: GASinclair | August 19, 2011 at 06:25 PM

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July 28, 2011

Lots of ground to cover

In my last post I noted that the pace of the recovery, now two years old, is in broad terms similar to that of the first two years of the previous two recoveries. The set-up included this observation:

"Though we have grown used to thinking of the rebound from the most recent recession as being spectacularly substandard, that impression (which I share) is driven more by the depth of the downturn than the actual speed of the recovery."

The context of the depth of the downturn is not, of course, irrelevant. One way of quantifying that context is to look at measures of the "output gap," that is, the difference between the level of real gross domestic product (GDP) and the economy's "potential." An informal way to think about whether or not a recovery is complete is to mark the time when the output gap returns to zero, or when the level of GDP returns to its potential.

There are several ways to estimate potential GDP, but for my money the one constructed by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is as good as any. And it does not tell a pretty story:

Real GDP-Real Potential GDP

It is worth noting that the CBO's measure is not a just a simple extrapolation of a constant trend, but a calculation based on historical relationships among labor hours, productivity growth, unemployment, and inflation. Their trend in potential GDP growth rates implied by this methodology, described here, is anything but linear:

Real Potential GDP

Note that the output gaps in the first chart are at historical lows (by a lot) despite the fact that potential GDP growth is at historical lows as well.

These estimates provide one way to assess the pace of the recovery. For example, the midpoints of the Federal Open Market Committee's (FOMC) most recent consensus forecasts for GDP growth are 2.8 percent (2011), 3.5 percent (2012), and 3.85 percent (2013). If those forecasts come to pass, approximately 60 percent of the CBO-implied gap will be closed. This would still leave, in real terms, more resource slack than existed at the lowest point in the past two recessions.

Put another way, if the economy grows at 4 percent from 2012 forward, the output gap won't be closed until sometime in 2015. At a growth rate of 3.5 percent—the lower end of FOMC participants' projections for the next two years—the "full recovery" date gets pushed back to 2016. If, however, the FOMC projections are too optimistic and the economy can only manage to grow at an annual pace of 3 percent (which is currently the consensus view of private forecasters for 2012) output gaps persist until 2020.

The conventional view of the macroeconomy that motivates the CBO estimates of potential GDP (and hence output gaps) at least implicitly embeds the assumption that time heals all wound. But the healing won't necessarily be fast.

David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

July 28, 2011 in Business Cycles, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Forecasts, Saving, Capital, and Investment | Permalink

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July 20, 2011

Is consumer spending the problem?

In answer to the question posed in the title to this post, The New York Times's David Leonhardt says absolutely:

"There is no shortage of explanations for the economy's maddening inability to leave behind the Great Recession and start adding large numbers of jobs…

"But the real culprit—or at least the main one—has been hiding in plain sight. We are living through a tremendous bust. It isn't simply a housing bust. It's a fizzling of the great consumer bubble that was decades in the making…

"If you're looking for one overarching explanation for the still-terrible job market, it is this great consumer bust."

Tempting story, but is the explanation for "the still-terrible job market" that simple?

First, some perspective on the pace of the current recovery. Though we have grown used to thinking of the rebound from the most recent recession as being spectacularly substandard, that impression (which I share) is driven more by the depth of the downturn than the actual speed of the recovery. The following chart traces the path of real gross domestic product (GDP) from the trough of the last three recessions:


In the first two years following the 1990–91 and 2001 recessions, output grew by about 6 percent. Assuming that GDP grew at annual rate of 1.5 percent in the second quarter just ended—a not-unreasonable guess at this point—the economy will have expanded by about 5.3 percent since the end of the last recession in July 2009. That's not a difference that jumps off the page at me.

Directly to the point of consumption spending, it is certainly true that consumer spending has expanded at a slower pace in the expansion to this point than was the case at the same point in the recoveries following the previous two recessions. From the end of the recession in the second quarter of 2009 through the first quarter of this year (we won't have the first official look at this year's second quarter until next week), personal consumption expenditures grew in real terms by just under 4 percent. That growth compares to 4.8 percent in the first seven quarters following the end of the 2001 recession and 5.9 percent in the first seven quarters following the end of the 1990–91 recession.

That difference in the growth of consumption across the early quarters of recovery after the 1990–91 and 2001 recessions with little discernible difference in GDP growth across those episodes illustrates the pitfalls of mechanically focusing on specific categories of spending. In fact, the relatively slower pace of consumer spending in this expansion has in part been compensated by a relatively high pace of business spending on equipment and software:


If you throw consumer durables into the general notion of "investment" (investment in this case for home production) the story of this recovery is the relative boom in capital spending compared to recent recoveries:


And what about that "still-terrible job market"? You won't get much argument from me about that description, but here again the reality is complicated. Focusing once more on the period since the end of the recession, the pace of job creation is not out of sync in comparison to recent expansions (though job creation after the last two recessions was meager as well, and we are, of course, starting from a much bigger hole in terms of jobs lost):


So, relative to recent experience, at this point in the recovery GDP growth and employment growth are about average (if we ignore the size of the recession in both measures). The undeniable (and relevant) human toll aside, the current recovery seems so disappointing because we expect the pace of the recovery to bear some relationship to the depth of the downturn. That expectation, in turn, comes from a view of the world in which potential output proceeds in a more or less linear fashion, up and to the right. But what if that view is wrong and our potential is a sequence of more or less permanent "jumps" up and down, some of which are small and some of which are big?

In addition, investment growth to date has been strong relative to recent recoveries and, as Leonhardt suggests, consumption growth has been somewhat weak. So here's a question: Would we have had more job creation and stronger GDP growth had businesses been more inclined to add workers instead of capital? And if that had occurred, might the consumption numbers have been considerably stronger?

David Altig By Dave Altig, senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

 

July 20, 2011 in Business Cycles, Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Forecasts, Saving, Capital, and Investment | Permalink

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This is an excellent contribution to elevating the quality of commentary on the current expansion. It is time to recognize the cycles experienced in the 60s, 70s, and early 80s were fundamentally different from those since. Because of this, the earlier cycles are not part of the relevant benchmark for making comparisons to current behavior. Three cheers for taking them out of the baseline used for comparisons.

Posted by: Douglas Lee | July 21, 2011 at 10:22 AM

David,
Let me ask a supplemental question. Following the '91 recession, the US created something like 20mm jobs. Following the '01 recession, perhaps 8.5mm jobs were created. How many jobs will be created in this decade?
Stewart

Posted by: stewart sprague | July 21, 2011 at 10:40 AM

The payroll employment chart suggests that just looking at the path for the level of employment from the end of a recession is not the relevant metric. How about looking at net jobs lost during the recession versus net jobs regained during the recovery? Then, the metric captures the essence of what the graph should indicate -- and what the blog offers in words. That the immense job loss of the recent recession is the big difference, and the recent sluggish job creation is akin to recoveries in 1991 and 2001. From this perspective, we have a problem that has been around for a few business cycles.

Posted by: ET_OC | July 21, 2011 at 02:44 PM

The obvious deficiencies in GDP this time have been net exports and government spending.

While the Fed has done its best to promote both, the politicians in Washington have done their best in the opposite direction by promoting an over-valued dollar and reduced federal spending, despite interest rates on the federal debt that are universally lower than during the years of the federal budget surplus.

Posted by: Paul | July 21, 2011 at 04:19 PM

I find it highly annoying that the the obvious is invisible to everyone.

http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/CMDEBT

Households were pulling $1.2T/yr of new mortgage debt during the boom 2004-2006. This was all cut off in 2007-2008.

Corporate debt take-on was another $800B/yr during this time, for a $2T/yr stimulus to the economy.

THAT IS TWENTY MILLION $100k/yr jobs!

Previous recessions in my life were all prompted by the Fed raising interest rates to throttle debt growth. What killed debt growth this time was the collapse of the ponzi lending structure and the bubble machine it was powering.

Posted by: Troy | July 22, 2011 at 01:58 AM

If you look at percent job losses since peak employment (not only since end of recession), then you can see how bad this recession is. At this point of the cycle after all prior recessions since WWII, the employment has recovered to pre-recession levels. In this recession, we are still 5% down.
http://cr4re.com/charts/charts.html

Posted by: Nino | July 22, 2011 at 05:29 PM

I look at PAYEMS (see below) and what do I see ? I see PAYEMS moving sideways since 2000/2001 so that after a decade of nonsense we find ourselves with 29,502.4 (Thousands (!)) less jobs than we would have had had the pre-2000/2001 trend continued to date.

http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/graph/?chart_type=line&s[1][id]=PAYEMS&log_scales=Left

Posted by: In Hell's Kitchen (NYC) | July 23, 2011 at 09:04 AM

Of course the comparison matter. your comparison against the 1990-91 and 2001 make 2007 look average. When comparing against all post WWII recession/recoveries all three of those recoveries look below average (with all recoveries since 1990 looking very weak indeed). Even then the down-turn was the worst putting the starting point at a very, very low level.

Posted by: RangerHondo | July 26, 2011 at 08:48 AM

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June 01, 2011

Should we even read the monthly inflation report? Maybe not. Then again...

In a recent issue of Economic Synopsis, our colleague Dan Thornton of the St. Louis Fed questions the usefulness of the traditional core inflation statistics—the consumer price index (CPI), or the personal consumption expenditure price index that strips out food and energy costs. Specifically, Dan asks whether the core inflation statistic is a better predictor of future inflation over the medium term (say, the next two or three years), than the headline inflation statistic. His conclusion is that:

"[F]or the most recent period, there is no compelling evidence that core inflation is a better predictor of future headline inflation over the medium term."

But Dan also invites the following:

"[I]n the interest of greater transparency and to allow the public to better understand its focus on core measures, the FOMC [Federal Open Market Committee] should provide evidence of the superior forecasting performance of the core measure it uses."

Well, of course neither writer of this blog post is on the FOMC, and equally obvious is the fact that we don't speak for anyone who is. Moreover, we're not very big fans of the traditional core measures, and we much prefer trimmed-mean estimators of inflation when thinking about recent price behavior.

Nevertheless, we'd like to attempt an answer to Dan's call, even if it wasn't aimed at us.

Here's the experiment run by Dan: He used the past 36-month trend in the traditional core inflation measure and the ordinary headline inflation measure and tested which one most accurately predicted the next 36 months of headline inflation. He found that they're about the same. A similar look at 24-month trends yielded a similar result.

The upshot of these experiments can be seen in the figure below (which is a figure of our construction, not his).


The chart shows how accurately we can predict headline CPI inflation over the next three years using only headline CPI price data or, alternatively, using only core CPI price data. The essence of the conclusion reached in the Economic Synopsis is summarized within the shaded box. The forecast accuracy of the two- and three-year trends of the core CPI price measure doesn't seem to be a significant improvement to the plain-vanilla headline CPI.

But we wonder whether the contribution of the core inflation statistic is being accurately reflected in this experiment. For us, the power of a core inflation measure—whether it be the traditional ex-food and energy measure, or some more statistical construct like the trimmed-mean estimators—can't be seen by comparing data trends of this sort. The volatility of an inflation statistic, what we would characterize as "noise," dissipates rather quickly, generally within a few months (although for food and energy, it could play out over a longer period of time, we understand).

At issue is how much the most recent month's or quarter's inflation data should inform one's thinking about the future path of inflation. Implicit in the experiments reported above is that they shouldn't—well, only as much as the most recent monthly or quarterly data influence the trend of the past two or three years.

It may be that the most recent monthly or even quarterly data are so noisy that they have nothing useful to contribute to our perception of the future inflation trend. But then again, an experiment that assumes there is no useful information in the most recent inflation data does not necessarily make it so.

We'd like to call your attention to the remainder of the figure above, where we ask the question, what happens if you try to predict headline CPI inflation over the next three years using only the most recent price data? For example, what if we restrict ourselves to looking only at the most recent month's CPI report? What we see is that the core inflation statistic provides a much improved prediction of the future inflation trend compared to the headline measure. Specifically, forecast accuracy is improved by nearly 50 percent if you use the core inflation measure. (For you wonks, the root mean square error, or RMSE, of the core CPI prediction is about 1.4 percent, compared with a RMSE of 2.7 percent for headline CPI inflation.)

Now consider the behavior of CPI prices over the past three months. How informative of the future inflation trend are these prices? Well, the accuracy of the headline inflation statistic improves relative to the one-month percent change because averaging the data over time in this way necessarily reduces the transitory fluctuations in the data. But again, the three-month core CPI price statistic provides a much better prediction of future headline inflation than does the three-month trend in the ordinary CPI statistic. In other words, if you're wondering what the past-three months of data tell you about developing inflation pressure, you're much better off considering the core statistic than you are the headline number.

Here's another observation we'd like to make: The most recent three-month trend in the core CPI inflation measure appears to be a more accurate predictor of future inflation than the 12-month headline CPI trend. Moreover, the three-month trend in the core measure is roughly as accurate as its longer-term trends. This observation suggests that paying attention to the core measure may allow you to spot changes in the inflation trend much more quickly than using headline alone.

Again, to be clear, we aren't endorsing the core inflation statistic. We're fans of trimmed-mean estimators and think they do an even better job of informing thinking about what the most recent price data tell us about the likely future path of inflation. (As evidence, we included in the chart above the same forecasting results for the median CPI.) We only want to make one simple point—the usefulness of a core inflation measure is best seen in the monthly and quarterly intervals that span FOMC meetings, not in the two- or three-year trends which are, by construction, largely silent about the most recent data.

By Mike Bryan, a vice president in research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, and Brent Meyer, a senior economic analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland

 


June 1, 2011 in Forecasts, Inflation | Permalink

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You can't test whether core is useful this way. For example, if a central bank is targeting 2% total inflation at a 2-year horizon, and if it is doing it right, then *nothing* should forecast 2-year ahead inflation. This is an immediate implication of rational expectations on the part of the bank. Deviations of total inflation from 2% are the bank's forecast error, which should be uncorrelated with anything in the bank's information set 2 years prior.

More in my post here: http://worthwhile.typepad.com/worthwhile_canadian_initi/2011/06/no-you-cant-test-whether-core-is-useful-that-way.html

Posted by: Nick Rowe | June 02, 2011 at 07:31 AM

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May 13, 2011

Just how out of line are house prices?

In Wednesday's post, I referenced commentary from several bloggers regarding the sizeable decline in housing prices reported by Zillow earlier this week. As I discussed yesterday, the rat-through-the-snake process of working down existing and prospective distressed properties is likely far from over, and how that process plays out will no doubt have an impact on how much prices will ultimately adjust.

Recently, Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture blog featured an update of a New York Times chart that suggests there will be a significant adjustment going forward:


Prior to the crisis, I was persistently advised that the better way to think about the "right" home price is to focus on price-rent ratios, because rents reflect the fundamental flow of implicit or explicit income generated by a housing asset. In retrospect that advice looks pretty good, so I am inclined to think in those terms today. A simple back-of-the envelope calculation for this ratio—essentially comparing the path of the S&P/Case-Shiller composite price index for 20 metropolitan regions to the time path of the rent of primary residences in the consumer price index—tells a somewhat different story than the New York Times chart used in the aforementioned Ritholtz blog post:


According to this calculation, current prices have nearly returned to levels relative to rents that prevailed in the decade prior to the housing boom that began in the late 1990s.

Of course, the price-rent ratio is not the most sophisticated of calculations. David Leonhardt shows the results from other such calculations that suggest prices relative to rents are still elevated, at least relative to the average that prevailed in the 1990s. But the adjustment that would be required to bring current levels back into line with the precrisis average is still much lower than suggested by the Ritholtz graph.

How much farther prices fall is, I think, critical in the determination of how the economy will fare in the immediate future. Again, from President Lockhart:

"The housing sector also has indirect impacts on the economy. In particular, the direction of home prices is important for the economy because changes in home prices affect the health of both household and bank balance sheets. …

"The indirect influence of the housing sector on consumer activity and bank lending would almost certainly aggravate housing's impact on growth."

Here's hoping my chart is more predictive of housing prices than the alternative.

Update: The Calculated Risk blog does a thorough job and concludes that we don't have "to choose between real prices and price-to-rent graphs to ask 'how far out of line are house prices?' I think they are both showing that prices are not far above the historical lows."

Update: The Big Picture's Barry Ritholtz points me to his earlier argument against reliance on price-rent ratios.


Photo of Dave Altig By Dave Altig
senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed



May 13, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Forecasts, Housing, Real Estate | Permalink

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I am trying to sell a house myself right now, and was shocked at the crash in housing values we see in our area (midwest). I'm seeing projections of 25% - 33% loss of value since 2006.

Unfortunately, I think prices have a ways to go before bottoming out. In my area, there are 18 months of housing stock on the market right now. We're competing with cheap foreclosures and short sales (both are at historic highs right now, I believe). In 2004, it took about 30 days to sell a house. Now it takes about 250 days. Try selling when you need to move immediately for a job opportunity.

Linking housing prices to rents might work in the "normal" environment. But we're so far outside of normal now that I think you're over-optimistic in your projections.

What historical period has had such a number of underwater mortgages? And isn't that all thanks to the models that assumed housing prices never diminished?

Economic models need to be revised to reflect current reality. Using a model that "is not the most sophisticated of calculations" won't get us out of this catastrophe. But it's certainly nice wishful thinking....

Posted by: Main Street Muse | May 13, 2011 at 11:52 AM

As long as we live in a world where interest rates never deviate from the current level, then "prices are in line with rent" If, however, for any reason interest rates may move towards long term trend lines...then it would be prudent to look at prices as a derivative of interest rates...in which case they are probably still far higher than a "normal" market could bare.

Posted by: Jay | May 13, 2011 at 12:59 PM

My neck of the woods, Sonoma, Calif property provides an indication of what direction other markets might experience when if ever foreclosure/distressed homes become a small percentage of the market. My upscale 55+ area has a good number of homes for sale and few are selling, prices continue to decline slowly but on a steady pace. Economist and others expect prices to hold or go up once the foreclosure process has run its course but the reality is that home prices are way out of line with income including price rent ratios. When using a price rent ratio use 100 times monthly rent as a baseline to get a good idea what local home prices should be. In my area most of these homes rent for about $1600 a month and owners try and sell between 350K and 500K, so based on the rent market these homes need to sell in the 160K range which is a long way from there bubble high of 650K or even current market prices which reflects a slow market. Maybe when and if these properties get down to reasonable price rent ratios they will sell.

Posted by: Ron Caldwell | May 13, 2011 at 04:30 PM

House price to rent is analogous to stock P/E ratio, and we know this can spend long periods of time well distant from its average value. So how much overshoot might we expect?

Posted by: dunkelblau | May 13, 2011 at 07:10 PM

"Here's hoping my chart is more predictive of housing prices than the alternative."

Isn't there something odd about senior employees of the Federal Reserve, the institution charged with primary responsibility for preserving the purchasing power of our currency, cheering (asset price) inflation?

Posted by: PatR | May 13, 2011 at 07:52 PM

Over and over again analysts use price/rent as if RENT was some kind of cosmic truth telling measure of value. Rents are quite volatile. Every bit as volatile as housing prices (if not more so). They very tremendously even within a small geographic area. The types and quality of rental housing also varies depending on when properties were built.

RIGHT NOW RENTS ARE WAY UP (in many areas) and vacancies are down. This is out of line with historical employment vs rent trends. These high rents obviously distort the price/rent ratio and there is no reason whatsoever to imagine that rent levels provide more truth of value than the housing prices themselves.

Posted by: Max Rockbin | May 13, 2011 at 11:30 PM

I think the above comments are a better indicator of what is really happening in today's real estate market than are models based upon historical data that is not likely to be repeated anytime soon.

I use proprietary software from foreclosureradar.com (I have no financial interest in the site) and the volume of REO inventory, both current and in the pipeline is staggering in California. As short sales and REO re-sales re-set the comparable prices, sellers are being forced to accept lower and lower prices because their homes otherwise won't appraise at the contracted sales price.

Based upon this data, prices are now back to 2000 and the "deals" can be had for 1996 prices. I suspect we have a few more years, and perhaps another recession, before it will be time again to buy.

Posted by: Jeff Goodrich | May 14, 2011 at 11:42 AM

The interesting thing about price to rent measures is how different they are geographically. The areas that are clearly in a housing oversupply situation are incredibly cheap to buy vs rent (think of renting as buying plus buying a put on the house struck at the market) whereas other areas that are in "relative" equilibrium are not at all cheap on a buy vs rent measure. As an example take a look on zillow at the price of a three bedroom house in Dearborn Mi. How this all sorts itself out will be an interesting experiment. In the absence of easy (IE: high LTV-No doc) lending, the most reasonable hypothesis is much lower prices.

Posted by: Steve Fulton | May 14, 2011 at 12:03 PM

In parts of metro-Denver, rents are above my value to rent formula: value/income = 1 percent. I have used this formula for over 40 years so I haven't purchased but only a few Denver properties in the last 20 years. Now I am purchasing properties again but one has to be keenly aware of declining value neighborhoods and rising expenses but property taxes are declining.

Posted by: ron glandt | May 14, 2011 at 12:37 PM

@Main Street Muse. The price to rent ratio is just that, a ratio independent of interest rates at the time. I believe your suggestion is more in line of a housing affordability index, which takes into consideration the interest rate and therefore monthly payment at the time. Using that measure of affordability, buying a house is actually more affordable now than in the past because of current low rates. In other words, we are back to long term trend in price to rent ratio, but still below long term trend in interest rates, which indicates we have some padding to absorb an increase to historical 7%.

Another thought about the "bottom." Distressed properties pulling prices down significantly. Agreed. But, doesn't the price of new construction ultimately determine the long term "price point" of the market with "used" homes selling on average 15-20% below new construction for the same quality and square footage? Assuming a continued expansion in the population, the recycling of current inventory, or washing out of the shadow inventory will only last so long before new houses must be built. New construction has an absolute cost in terms of labor and commodities. Would be interesting to see a trend line of the cost of new construction per square foot over time.

Posted by: Virginia | May 14, 2011 at 04:15 PM

Property prices in desirable parts of California probably will never stabilize at 100 months rent because of combination of premiums buyers are willing to pay and the distortions caused by prop 13. However, long-term prices have tracked around 4x income and hit around 10x during the bubble. So that might predict a $650K bubble house going for about $250k

Posted by: doug liser | May 15, 2011 at 10:42 AM

Erik Hurst from the University of Chicago uses a different methodology than Case-Schiller. He says CS overstates moves.

Based on his predictions of a couple of years ago, we only have around 10% left on a macro basis. Individual markets might be different.

Posted by: Jeff Carter | May 15, 2011 at 11:19 AM

ACCOUNT FOR DEMOGRAPHICS THO AND A BULL DOZER FOR AS MANY AS 50 PERCENT OF THE HOUSES IS NOT A UNREALITY UNLESS THE NEO CULTURALISM OF IMMIGRATION IS ADDED

Posted by: MILE | May 16, 2011 at 12:27 AM

I am rather puzzled as to what the rent valuations are based on. AFIK there is no mechanism that requires landlords to report to any centralized statistical agency what rents their tenants are actually paying, along with information that would permit comparison to actual sale prices for comparable homes. Here in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, at bubble peak there were hardly any single-family homes for rent, and none comparable to mid- to high-end properties. Homes that in the past might have been rentals had been bought up by flippers and were being rehabbed -- or torn down to be replaced with million-dollar McMansions.

Now, there is a glut of homes for rent, but nearly all at prices that reflect not what the market will pay, but rather what the homeowner needs to pay their mortgage and taxes. As the owners are not business-people and are in a state of denial, they refuse to lower the asking rent, preferring zero income to any income less than mortgage plus taxes. So one finds the same homes on the MLS rental pages six months, nine months, or even more. Recently, one sees an occasional reduction in asking rent --- but not enough to move the property. I suspect that many of the homes that have disappeared from the MLS rental listings have disappeared not because they were rented, but because they were finally foreclosed upon. But if they were rented, I suspect it was at a monthly rate well below the asking rent.

So if the rents used for the price-to-rent ratio calculation are the MLS asking rents, they are probably significantly overstated.

Moreover, since the market is obviously not clearing at the rents being currently being asked, actual rents will have to end up significantly lower than the rents currently being paid for the homes that do rent, if the additional homes (which are effectively a "shadow inventory") are ever going to actually be rented.

Posted by: jm | May 16, 2011 at 03:24 AM

Zillow is half the problem. They estimate my house on the basis of never seeing it, nor ever seeing the improvements I've made. They have a statistical model they follow, but I own a ranch house on a full ace, and in my area there are probably 1 or 2 similar houses for sale, so there is no statistically valid sample to put into their model.

The other half is the estimators that do the same thing. They don't look at a house, they don't have a valid statistical sample, so there numbers are irrelevant.

The value of a house is what a buyer and seller say it is. The only other basis to use is build or rebuild cost. So, let's be honest, the system is the problem.

If you really want to solve he problem, reenact Glass Steagall, thereby forcing the banks to lend money in order to make a profit instead of gambling on derivatives. They don't lend, they die. As Ben Johnson said, "The prospect of hanging has a way of concentrating the mind."

Posted by: Don Hiorth | May 16, 2011 at 08:30 AM

@Virginia - "Using that measure of affordability, buying a house is actually more affordable now than in the past because of current low rates."

If you are a first time buyer, this could be an okay time to buy - but prices are still significantly higher than in the late 1990s, and it seems that they will continue to decline through the next 12 - 18 months. And employment uncertainties/wage stagnation could make buying a bit tricky today.

If you are NOT a first time buyer, but a homeowner looking to sell, the price to rent ratio is irrelevant. The market value of your home has tanked significantly in the last few years. That's a serious decline in the net worth of a middle-class home owner.

Posted by: Main Street Muse | May 16, 2011 at 12:20 PM

But when bubbles burst don't prices normally overshoot to the downside? If house prices are "average" now, wouldn't this suggest that they still have a lot further to fall?

Posted by: John Smith | May 17, 2011 at 07:17 AM

The price/rent ratio probably should not compare the price to rent of equivalent houses. I am a renter now, but if I ever do decide to buy a house, I would buy a house much larger than the one I am renting now.

Posted by: skr | May 31, 2011 at 05:15 PM

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May 11, 2011

Is housing hurting the recovery?

Though the week is only half over, I'm going to nominate Stan Humphries and Zillow as bearers of the week's most distressing economic news:

"Home values fell three percent in the first quarter of this year, marking a pace of decline not seen since 2008 when the housing recession was at its worst. Home values fell one percent between February and March and 8.2 percent from March 2010."

Calculated Risk provides a handy table of how prices have affected equity values in homes by locale, as the Zillow Real Estate Research blog predicts the price-decline end is not so near:

"Previously, we anticipated a bottom in home values by the end of 2011. But with values falling by about 1 percent per month so far, it's unlikely that will happen. We now believe a bottom will come in 2012, at the earliest."

At The Curious Capitalist, on the other hand, Stephen Gandel says he's not so sure:

"To be sure, housing prices have fallen this year. But the Zillow numbers out today make the housing market look worse than it is. The problem is with how Zillow tracks home prices. Unlike other measures of the housing market, Zillow's numbers are not based on actual sales, but on estimates of what its model thinks your house, along with every other house in America is worth. Zillow's model is similar to how an appraiser figures out what your house is worth. It looks at past sales of houses that are similar to yours and then guesses what your house is worth. But by the time those sales are fed into Zillow's system they are months old. … If the housing market is turning, Zillow is going to miss it."

Is the housing market turning, particularly with respect to prices? Tough to say. If you want your glass half full, these words from the New York Fed's Liberty Street Economics might be the tonic for your tastes:

"This post gives our summary of the 2011:Q1 Quarterly Report on Household Debt and Credit, released today by the New York Fed. The report shows signs of healing in household balance sheets in the United States and the region, as measured by consumer debt levels, delinquency rates, foreclosure starts, and bankruptcies…

"Delinquency rates are generally down…

"New foreclosures fell nationally and in the region. About 368,000 individuals in the United States had a foreclosure notation added to their credit report between December 31 and March 31, a 17.7 percent decrease from the 2010:Q4 level. New foreclosure rates fell from 0.19 percent to 0.15 percent for all individuals nationwide…"

What may be the most important aspect of the report is highlighted by the Financial Times's Robin Harding: "…fewer new mortgages going bad, and some bad mortgages getting better." In fact, for the first time since the crisis began, the percentage of mortgages transitioning from 30 to 90 days delinquent to current exceeds the percentage transitioning to seriously delinquent (90-plus days).


There is, of course, plenty of material for the housing-price bears. For example, the flow of seriously delinquent mortgages is quite elevated.


According to estimates from CoreLogic, the supply of "distressed" homes is greater than 15 months at the current pace of sales:


Kevin Drum thinks this all adds up to problems for the recovery (hat tip Free Exchange):

"Most analysts now expect that the housing market won't bottom out until sometime next year. Until that happens, it's unlikely that that the sluggish economic recovery we're seeing right now will improve much."

The view here at the Atlanta Fed—and the answer to the question posed in the title of this post—was provided earlier today by our president, Dennis Lockhart, in a speech given to the Atlanta Council for Quality Growth:

"…can we have high-quality growth while the residential real estate and commercial real estate sectors continue to be so weak? Not completely, in my opinion. The recovery will progress, but it will not be robust until we work through the economy's serious imbalances, including those in the real estate sector.

"As I look ahead, I think the most reasonable assumption is that improvement of the real estate sector will lag an otherwise improving economy. But I am encouraged by the fact that the economy is increasingly on firmer footing."

I will let you decide whether that glass is half-empty or half-full.

Photo of Dave Altig By Dave Altig
senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed



May 11, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Forecasts, Housing, Real Estate | Permalink

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the accelerating decline in housing prices is really old news, and its not just zillow that's been reporting it; corelogic reported a 1.5% decline in March, which put their index 4.6% below the 2009 lows; the NAR index has fallen 7% YTD, and is also 4.6% below last years reading; and just last week, clear capital declared an official double dip, after their index fell 4.9% from the previous quarter and 5.0% YoY...

Posted by: rjs | May 12, 2011 at 05:49 AM

I'm voting for half empty. And I think it will take more than just a year before housing recovers to the point it will have a significant positive impact on the economy. So I’m projecting a slow choppy recovery for the U.S. economy.

Posted by: Phil Aust | May 16, 2011 at 11:44 AM

US government has stimulate the economy with 4.5 trillions of dollars or so and its only stimulated the economy half cos it bail out the big co. only . The main contributor of US economy , consumers are left in debt . They need to be bailed out so that economy will be balanced.

Posted by: Win | May 24, 2011 at 12:29 AM

I'm going to have to agree with the half empty comment. I think it is true that we are a long ways away from the economy going up. Not only is housing suffering, but business owners as well. Hopefully change will come soon.

Posted by: Stephanie | June 01, 2011 at 03:07 PM

Another hand for half empty. It's really hard to recover from economic downfall. I don't think housing is the mainstream of this. Rapid growth of population and cost cutting also affect the chance of regaining it back.

Posted by: makati for rent | August 03, 2011 at 08:38 PM

Im agree with the half empty comment and also the rapid growth of population and cost cutting affect of our economy downfall.

Posted by: cavite housing | August 22, 2011 at 12:15 AM

Housing has definitely hurt our economy, people are unable to pay rents and loans of there houses

Posted by: iphone 6 | February 12, 2012 at 12:49 PM

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January 04, 2011

Looking back, looking forward

Kicking off the new year, the latest edition of the Atlanta Fed's EconSouth magazinecontains our annual review of the year past and our bravest guess about the one to come (articles in this issue include outlooks for the national, international and Southeast economies and features on small business and other topics). If we are looking for enduring lessons about the national economy from the previous year, I nominate the time-tested but oft-ignored advice to be wary of reading too much into short-term economic ups and downs:

"Better-than-expected increases in several economic indicators in the spring led many economists to revise up their growth estimates. A quick snap-back in the economy, as has been typical in most other deep recessions in the post–World War II era, seemed a distinct possibility.

"However, such a snap-back was not to be. It is now clear that some of the rebound in growth stemmed from a rebuilding of depleted inventories in the first quarter and the waning influence of various government spending programs. By summer, the incoming economic data had weakened considerably, and the pace of expansion in the major expenditure categories raised the specter of a step backward into contraction…

"Bumpy growth for an economy transitioning out of a recession is not unusual. For example, GDP [gross domestic product] jumped by 3.5 percent in the quarter immediately following the end of the 2001 recession, but it then slowed to just 0.1 percent three quarters later. To date, that pattern of growth proceeding in fits and starts has certainly been representative of this recovery."

In fact, it now appears that the U.S. economy grew in 2010 by somewhere in the range of 2.5 percent to 3 percent, just where the Blue Chip consensus was at the beginning of the year (and, incidentally, somewhat better than what we at the Atlanta Fed were expecting). Still…

"Despite these improvements, economic performance has been somewhat disappointing. The recovery has not been strong enough to meaningfully reduce the unemployment rate. Throughout the year, the unemployment rate has remained well above 9 percent. Income growth (excluding transfer payments made by the government) has been weak—up less than 1 percent for the year on an inflation-adjusted basis. The housing market is struggling in the face of continuing foreclosures despite a variety of tax incentives and historically low mortgage rates, and the commercial real estate sector likewise has not recovered. This theme of improvement in some areas and ongoing weakness in others illustrates the unevenness of the recovery and more uncertainty than normal about future economic prospects."

Will 2011 be a different story? Quantitatively, probably yes—growth should take another step up this year. But the story, we think, remains essentially the same:

"The incoming data as well as reports from the Atlanta Fed's business contacts are broadly consistent with a relatively restrained growth trajectory. There are, in fact, several factors that will plausibly inhibit the pace of the expansion. Weakness in residential and commercial real estate is ongoing. Business and consumer attitudes are still extremely cautious, and slow spending growth by businesses and households is continuing to hold back inflation. Over the near term, additional business spending appears likely to be geared primarily toward activities such as targeted mergers and acquisition and further increases in efficiency rather than toward pure expansion. Slow and uneven sales, opportunities to reduce costs through increased productivity, structural adjustments in labor markets, and uncertainty over government policy—including changes in labor and environmental rules, tax policy, and financial regulations—are restraining job creation. Slow job growth, naturally, implies that unemployment could remain elevated for some time."

But…

"Of course, risks lurk on both the upside and downside for the outlook, but there are reasons for optimism. Financial firms and households have made significant headway in repairing their severely compromised balance sheets, and most are in a much better financial position than they were a year-ago. Businesses in particular have substantially more liquidity and significant capacity to deploy capital to new projects. Some of the uncertainties that have vexed private decision makers, such as the course of near-term tax policy, may finally be abating…

"Recent surprises in the economic indicators have been predominantly to the upside, which is a very good sign. If such positive surprises persist, and confidence in the economic environment grows, it could be that current estimates for only slight improvement in 2011 have been too modest."

Here's hoping.

Note: For more perspective on the 2010 economic outlook and monetary policy, stay tuned for Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart's speech to the Rotary Club of Atlanta, scheduled for Monday, January 10. The text will be posted on the Bank's website.


Photo of Dave Altig By Dave Altig
Senior vice president and research director at the Atlanta Fed

January 4, 2011 in Economic Growth and Development, Forecasts | Permalink

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Comments

I used to think Ron Paul was crazy. But I no longer believe anything that comes from the FED. The FED doesn't follow the "Blue Book's" governmental accounting, auditing, and financial reporting standards, & would obviously not pass any normal corporate audit of its books. The on-line Federal Reserve Bulletin now has effectively eliminated the "paper trail".

Posted by: flow5 | January 09, 2011 at 04:27 PM

Good work with the FRBA forecasts in 2010. Very close to the mark in the short term. Hope you are on the mark for inflation over the medium and long term.

Posted by: Williamrsmith | January 10, 2011 at 07:04 PM

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