Friday, January 30, 2015

Comment on Q4 GDP and Investment: R-E-L-A-X

by Bill McBride on 1/30/2015 12:08:00 PM

There are legitimate concerns about a strong dollar, and weak economic activity overseas, impacting U.S. exports and GDP growth. However, overall, the Q4 GDP report was solid.

The key numbers are: 1) PCE increased at a 4.3% annual rate in Q4 (the two month method nails it again), and 2) private fixed investment increased at a 2.3% rate. The negatives were trade (subtracted 1.02 percentage point) and Federal government spending (subtracted 0.54 percentage points).

As usual, I like to focus on private fixed investment because that is the key to the business cycle.

The first graph shows the Year-over-year (YoY) change in real GDP, real PCE, and real fixed private investment.

Investment Contributions
Click on graph for larger image.

It appears the pace of growth for real GDP and PCE has been picking up a little. Real GDP was up 2.5% Q1 over Q1, and real PCE was up 2.8%. Both will show stronger growth next quarter (since Q1 2014 was so weak).

The dashed black line is the year-over-year change in private fixed investment. This slowed a little in Q4, but has been increasing solidly.

The graph below shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter trailing 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.

In the 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.

Note: This can't be used blindly.  Residential investment is so low as a percent of the economy that the small decline early last year was not  a concern.

Investment ContributionsClick on graph for larger image.

Residential investment (RI) increased at a 4.1% annual rate in Q4.  Equipment investment decreased at a 1.9% annual rate, and investment in non-residential structures increased at a 2.6% annual rate.   On a 3 quarter trailing average basis, RI is moving up (red), equipment is moving sideways (green), and nonresidential structures dipped a little (blue).

Note: Nonresidential investment in structures typically lags the recovery, however investment in energy and power provided a boost early in this recovery. 

I expect investment to be solid going forward (except for energy and power), and for the economy to grow at a solid pace in 2015.