Friday, October 26, 2012

Comments on Q3 GDP and Investment

by Bill McBride on 10/26/2012 12:15:00 PM

The Q3 GDP report was weak, with 2.0% annualized real GDP growth, but slightly better than expected. Final demand increased in Q3 as personal consumption expenditures increased at a 2.0% annual rate (up from 1.5% in Q2), and residential investment increased at a 14.4% annual rate (up from 8.5% in Q2).

Investment in equipment and software was flat in Q3, and investment in non-residential structures was negative.   However, it appears the drag from state and local governments will end soon (after declining for 3 years).

Overall this was another weak report indicating sluggish growth.

The following graph shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter centered average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.

For the following graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue.

The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories.

Investment ContributionsClick on graph for larger image.

Residential Investment (RI) made a positive contribution to GDP in Q3 for the sixth consecutive quarter. Usually residential investment leads the economy, but that didn't happen this time because of the huge overhang of existing inventory, but now RI is contributing. The good news: Residential investment has clearly bottomed.

The contribution from RI will probably continue to be sluggish compared to previous recoveries, but the ongoing positive contribution to GDP is a significant story.

Equipment and software investment was unchanged in Q3 (compared to Q2). This followed twelve consecutive quarters with a positive contribution.

The contribution from nonresidential investment in structures was negative in Q3. Nonresidential investment in structures typically lags the recovery, however investment in energy and power has masked the ongoing weakness in office, mall and hotel investment (the underlying details will be released next week).

The second graph shows the contribution to percent change in GDP for residential investment and state and local governments since 2005.

State and Local Government Residential Investment GDPThe blue bars are for residential investment (RI), and RI was a significant drag on GDP for several years. Now RI has added to GDP growth for the last 6 quarters (through Q3 2012).

However the drag from state and local governments is ongoing, although the drag in Q3 was very small. State and local governments have been a drag on GDP for twelve consecutive quarters. Although not as large a negative as the worst of the housing bust (and much smaller spillover effects), this decline has been relentless and unprecedented. The good news is the drag appears to be ending.

In real terms, state and local government spending is now back to 2001 levels, even with a larger population.

Residential InvestmentResidential Investment as a percent of GDP is up from the record lows during the housing bust. Usually RI bounces back quickly following a recession, but this time there is a wide bottom because of the excess supply of existing vacant housing units.

Last year the increase in RI was mostly from multifamily and home improvement investment. Now the increase is from most categories including single family. I'll break down Residential Investment (RI) into components after the GDP details are released this coming week. Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories.

non-Residential InvestmentThe last graph shows non-residential investment in structures and equipment and software.

I'll add details for investment in offices, malls and hotels next week.

The key story is that residential investment is continuing to increase, and I expect this to continue (although the recovery in RI will be sluggish compared to previous recoveries). Since RI is the best leading indicator for the economy, this suggests no recession this year or in 2013 (with the usual caveats about Europe and policy errors in the US).

Earlier with revision graphs:
Real GDP increased 2.0% annual rate in Q3

Last 10 Posts