Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Ten Economic Questions for 2015

by Bill McBride on 12/24/2014 03:01:00 PM

Here is a review of the Ten Economic Questions for 2014.

There are always many questions for the new year. There are international economic issues with Russia in recession, Europe struggling and China slowing. There are always problems in the middle east, North Korea, and in other regions.

In the U.S., this is an odd year (no election), and Congress might threaten the economy again.  And something might surprise us again (did anyone see yields dropping this far in 2014?).

Here are my ten questions for 2015. I'll follow up with some thoughts on each of these questions.

1) Economic growth: Heading into 2015, most analysts are pretty sanguine.   Even with contraction in Q1, 2014 was a decent year (GDP will grow around 2.4% in 2014).  Will 2015 be the best year of the recovery so far?  Could 2015 be the best year since the '90s?  Or will 2015 disappoint again?

2) Employment:  With one month to go, 2014 is already the best year for employment growth since the '90s.   Will 2015 be as strong?  Or will job creation slow in 2015?

3) Unemployment Rate: The unemployment rate was at 5.8% in November, down 0.9 percentage points year-over-year.  Currently the FOMC is forecasting the unemployment rate will be in the 5.2% to 5.3% range next December.  What will the unemployment rate be in December 2015?

4) Inflation: The inflation rate is still running well below the Fed's 2% target. Will the core inflation rate rise in 2015?  Will too much inflation be a concern in 2015?

5) Monetary Policy:  The Fed completed QE3 in 2014, and now the question is will the Fed raise rates in 2015?  If so, when?  And by how much?  The Fed Funds rate has been at 0 to 0.25% since December 2008.

6) Real Wage Growth: Last month I listed a few economic "words of the year" for the last decade.  I finished with: "2015: Wages (Just being hopeful - maybe 2015 will be the year that real wages start to increase)". Will real wages increase in 2015?

7) Oil Prices: Declining oil prices and falling bond yields were two of the biggest stories of 2014.  Will oil prices continue to decline in 2015?

8) Residential Investment: Residential investment (RI) picked was up solidly in 2012 and 2013 - up 13.5% and 11.9% respectively - but RI was only up 1.6% through Q3 2014.   Note: RI is mostly investment in new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement and commissions on existing home sales.  How much will RI increase in 2015?  How about housing starts and new home sales in 2015?

9) House Prices: It appears house prices - as measured by the national repeat sales index (Case-Shiller, CoreLogic) - will be up about 5% or so in 2014 (after increasing about 12% nationally in 2013).   What will happen with house prices in 2015?

10) Housing Inventory: It appears housing inventory bottomed in early 2013.  Will inventory increase further in 2015, and, if so, by how much?

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