Monday, May 11, 2009

The Impact of Changes in the Saving Rate on PCE

by Bill McBride on 5/11/2009 01:44:00 PM

On Saturday I excerpted from a NY Times article Shift to Saving May Be Downturn’s Lasting Impact. I argued:

The saving rate will probably continue to rise (an aging population usually pushes the saving rate higher) and a rising saving rate will repair household balance sheets, but ... this will also keep pressure on personal consumption.
First, here is a graph of the annual saving rate back to 1929.

Personal Saving Rate Click on graph for large image.

Notice that the saving rate went negative during the Depression as household used savings to supplement income. And the saving rate rose to over 25% during WWII.

There is a long period of a rising saving rate (from after WWII to 1974) and a long period of a declining saving rate (from 1975 to 2008).

Some of the change in saving rate was related to demographics. As the large baby boom cohort entered the work force in the mid '70s, the saving rate declined (younger families usually save less), however I expected the saving rate to start to rise as the boomers reached their mid-40s (in the late '90s). This didn't happen.

Perhaps the twin bubbles - stock market and housing - deluded the boomers into thinking they had saved more than they actually had. Perhaps the boomers were deluded by bad economic analysis (see David Malpass: Running on Empty?)

Whatever the reason, I expect the saving rate to continue to rise over the next year or two. And that raises a question: what will be the impact on PCE of a rising saving rate?

I created the following scatter graph for the period from 1955 through Q1 2009. This compares the annual change in PCE with the annual change in the saving rate.

Personal Saving Rate vs. PCE Note that R-squared is only .125, so there are other factors impacting PCE (like changes in income!).

But a rising saving rate does seem to suppress PCE (as expected). If the saving rate rises to 8% by the end of 2010, this suggests that real PCE growth will be about 1% below trend per year.

So with wages barely rising, and a rising saving rate suppressing PCE, I'd expect PCE growth to be sluggish for some time. And since PCE is usually one of the engines of recovery (along with residential investment), I expect the recovery to be very sluggish too (no Immaculate recovery).

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