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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Business Cycle: Temporal Order

by Calculated Risk on 3/08/2009 03:56:00 PM

I've written extensively about using housing as a leading indicator for recessions and recoveries. Professor Leamer of the UCLA Anderson Forecast presented a very readable paper on this topic at the 2007 Jackson Hole conference: Housing and the Business Cycle

In that paper, Leamer outlined the temporal order of a typical business cycle:

The temporal ordering of the spending weakness is: residential investment, consumer durables, consumer nondurables and consumer services before the recession, and then, once the recession officially commences, business spending on the short-lived assets, equipment and software, and, last, business spending on the long-lived assets, offices and factories. The ordering in the recovery is exactly the same.
I think this order can be simplified as follows (with employment added):

When Weakness Typically Starts

Pre-Recession Coincident with Recession Lags Start of Recession
Residential Investment PCE Investment, non-residential Structures
Investment, Equipment & Software

When I first started writing about the housing bubble - and the then coming housing bust - I pointed out that we should be very concerned because housing slumps typically lead the economy into recessions. It happened once again.

Housing usually leads the economy out of recessions too. The second table shows a simplified typical temporal order for emerging from a recession.

When Recovery Typically Starts

During Recession Lags End of Recession Significantly Lags End of Recession
Residential InvestmentInvestment, Equipment & Software Investment, non-residential Structures

This business cycle there are reasons that housing will not be a significant engine of recovery. It is possible - see Looking for the Sun - that new home sales and housing starts will bottom in 2009, but any recovery in housing will probably be sluggish.

That leaves Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) - and as households increase their savings rate to repair their balance sheets, it seems unlikely that PCE will increase significantly any time soon. So even if the economy bottoms in the 2nd half of 2009, any recovery will probably be very sluggish.

At least we know what to watch: Residential Investment (RI) and PCE. The increasingly severe slump in CRE / non-residential investment in structures will be interesting, but that is a lagging indicator for the economy.

(1) In recent recessions, unemployment significantly lagged the end of the recession. That is very likely this time too.