Sunday, December 27, 2015

Ten Economic Questions for 2016

by Bill McBride on 12/27/2015 12:18:00 PM

Here is a review of the Ten Economic Questions for 2015.

There are always some international economic issues, especially with Europe, China and other areas of the world struggling.  However, my focus is on the US economy, with an emphasis on housing.

Here are my ten questions for 2016. I'll follow up with some thoughts on each of these questions.

1) Economic growth: Heading into 2016, most analysts are once again pretty sanguine.   Even with weak growth in the first quarter, 2015 was a decent year (GDP growth will be around 2.5% in 2015).   Right now analysts are expecting growth of 2.6% in 2016, although a few analysts are projecting a recession.    How much will the economy grow in 2016?

2) Employment: Through November, the economy has added 2,308,000 jobs this year, or 210,000 per month. As expected, this was down from the 260 thousand per month in 2014.  Will job creation in 2016 be as strong as in 2015?  Or will job creation be even stronger, like in 2014?  Or will job creation slow further in 2016?

3) Unemployment Rate: The unemployment rate was at 5.0% in November, down 0.8 percentage points year-over-year.  Currently the FOMC is forecasting the unemployment rate will be in the 4.6% to 4.8% range in Q4 2016.  What will the unemployment rate be in December 2016?

4) Inflation: The inflation rate has increased a little recently, and some key measures are now close to the the Fed's 2% target. Will the core inflation rate rise in 2016?  Will too much inflation be a concern in 2016?

5) Monetary Policy:  The Fed raised rates this month, and now the question is how much will the Fed raise rates in 2016?  The market is pricing in two 25 bps rate hikes in 2016, and most analysts expect three to four hikes in 2016.  However, some analysts think the Fed is finished, the so-called "one and done" view.  Will the Fed raise rates in 2016, and if so, by how much?

6) Real Wage Growth: Last year I was one of the most pessimistic forecasters on wage growth.  That was unfortunately correct.  Hopefully 2016 will be better for wages!  How much will wages increase in 2016?

7) Oil Prices: The decline in oil prices was a huge story at the end of 2014, and prices have declined sharply again at the end of 2015.  Will oil prices stabilize here (WTI is at $38 per barrel)?  Or will prices decline further?  Or will prices increase in 2016?

8) Residential Investment: Residential investment (RI) was up solidly in 2015.  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 2016?  How about housing starts and new home sales in 2016?

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 2015 (after increasing 7% in 2012, 11% in 2013, and 5% in 2014 according to Case-Shiller).   What will happen with house prices in 2016?

10) Housing Inventory: Housing inventory bottomed in early 2013.  However, after increase in 2013 and 2014, inventory was down slightly year-over-year in 2015 (through November).  Will inventory increase or decrease in 2016?

There are other important questions, but these are the ones I'm focused on right now.