Friday, March 27, 2009

Q1 GDP will be Ugly

by Bill McBride on 3/27/2009 04:43:00 PM

Stock Market Crashes First, a quick market update ...

Click on graph for larger image in new window.

This graph is from Doug Short of (financial planner): "Four Bad Bears".

Note that the Great Depression crash is based on the DOW; the three others are for the S&P 500.

On Q1 GDP:

Earlier today the BEA released the February Personal Income and Outlays report. This report suggests Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) will probably be slightly positive in Q1 (caveat: this is before the March releases and revisions).

Since PCE is almost 70% of GDP, does this mean GDP will be OK in Q1?


I expect Q1 2009 GDP to be very negative, and possibly worse than in Q4 2008. Right now I'm looking at something like a 6% to 8% decline (annualized) in real GDP (there is significant uncertainty, especially with inventory and trade).

The problem is the 30% of non-PCE GDP, especially private fixed investment. There will probably be a significant inventory correction too, and some decline in local and state government spending. But it is private fixed investment that will cliff dive. This includes residential investment, non-residential investment in structures, and investment in equipment and software.

A little story ...

Imagine ACME widget company with a steadily growing sales volume (say 5% per year). In the first half of 2008 their sales were running at 100 widgets per year, but in the 2nd half sales fell to a 95 widget per year rate. Not too bad.

ACME's customers are telling the company that they expect to only buy 95 widgets this year, and 95 in 2010. Not good news, but still not too bad for ACME.

But this is a disaster for companies that manufacturer widget making equipment. ACME was steadily buying new widget making equipment over the years, but now they have all the equipment they need for the next two years or longer.

ACME sales fell 5%. But the widget equipment manufacturer's sales could fall to zero, except for replacements and repairs.

And this is what we will see in Q1 2009. Real investment in equipment and software has declined for four straight quarters, including a 28.1% decline (annualized) in Q4. And I expect another huge decline in Q1.

For non-residential investment in structures, the long awaited slump is here. I expect declining investment over a number of quarters (many of these projects are large and take a number of quarters to complete, so the decline in investment could be spread out over a couple of years). And once again, residential investment has declined sharply in Q1 too.

When you add it up, this looks like a significant investment slump in Q1.

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