Monday, December 24, 2012

Ten Economic Questions for 2013

by Bill McBride on 12/24/2012 06:43:00 PM

Here are some questions I'm thinking about ...

1) US Policy: This is probably the biggest downside risk for the US economy in 2013. I assume some sort of fiscal agreement will be reached soon, but how much austerity will be included? What will happen with the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)? What about emergency unemployment benefits? What about extending the mortgage relief for debt forgiveness (important for short sales)?

And what about other policy in 2013 such as the "default ceiling" (aka debt ceiling)? In 2011, the threat of a US government default slowed the economy to almost a standstill for a month. Right now the White House is taking the Ronald Reagan approach (when the Democrats pulled a similar reckless stunt) and they are saying President Obama will only sign a clean debt ceiling bill. Good.  Hopefully default is off the table, but you never know.

2) Economic growth: Heading into 2013 there are still significant downside risks from the European financial crisis and from U.S. fiscal policy. Will the U.S. economy grow in 2013? Or will there be another recession?

3) Employment: How many payroll jobs will be added in 2013? Will we finally see some pickup over the approximately 2 million private sector job creation rate of 2011 and 2012?

4) Unemployment Rate: The unemployment rate is still elevated at 7.7% in November. For the last two years I've been too pessimistic on the unemployment rate because I was expecting some minor bounce back in the participation rate. Instead the participation rate continued to decline. Maybe 2013 will be the year the participation rate increases a little, or at least stabilizes. Economists at the SF Fed wrote about this last week: Will the Jobless Rate Drop Take a Break?

The recent recession was unusual in its depth and its duration. Labor market conditions have remained difficult for a long time. As a result, large numbers of discouraged workers have stopped looking for jobs. A big unknown is whether these workers will stay out of the labor force permanently or enter as the economy recovers. If these workers join the labor force, increasing participation could have a major impact on the unemployment rate in the coming years.
What will the unemployment rate be in December 2013?

5) Inflation: The Fed has made it clear they will tolerate a little more inflation, but currently the inflation rate is running below the Fed's 2% target. Will the inflation rate rise or fall in 2013?

6) Monetary Policy: Currently the Fed is planning to buy $85 billion in Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities per month as part of the open-ended QE3. Will the Fed continue all year at this pace? Or will the Fed increase their purchase rate? Or will the Fed decrease their purchase rate, stop these purchases, or even sell some securities?

7) House Prices: It now appears house prices, as measured by the national repeat sales indexes, bottomed in early 2012? What will happen with house prices in 2013?

8) Housing Inventory: Over the last few years, we've seen a dramatic plunge in existing home inventory. Will inventory bottom in 2013?

9) Residential Investment: Residential investment (RI) picked up in 2012, with new home sales and housing starts increasing 20% or so.  Note: RI is mostly investment in new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement and commissions on existing home sales. This still leaves RI at a historical low level. How much will RI increase in 2013?

10) Europe and the Euro: What will happen in Europe in 2013? Will a country leave the euro this coming year, will the euro-zone implode, or will 2013 be the bottom for the euro-zone economies?

I'm sure there are other key questions, but these are the ones I'm thinking about now.

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