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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Brighter Outlook

by Calculated Risk on 1/05/2011 05:46:00 PM

Back in early 2009, one of the key reasons I thought there wouldn't be a "depression" (defined as a 10% decline in real GDP) was because the drag from several key sectors was slowing (see Feb, 2009: Looking for the Sun)

The logic was similar last year when I argued for sluggish growth but no double dip recession - I just didn't see a huge decline in residential investment. I noted that "usually a recession (or double-dip) is preceded by a sharp decline in Residential Investment (housing is the best leading indicator for the business cycle), and it [is] hard for RI to fall much further".

Now we can even go further. As I argued in Question #2 for 2011: Residential Investment, residential investment, and residential construction employment, will probably make positive contributions in 2011 to real GDP growth and payroll employment.

From the ADP employment report this morning:

Construction employment was unchanged in December, ending continuous monthly declines since June 2007. The decline in Construction employment, since its peak in January 2007, is 2,306,000.
The tide is changing.

And there has even been some positive news for commercial real estate: Reis reported the vacancy rates for offices and malls didn't increase in Q4. Even if this is the peak, I still expect non-residential investment in structures to be a drag through the middle of this year - but that drag will slow too.

The real key will be employment growth. More jobs means more households, and if we see my forecast for job growth in 2011, we will probably see around 1 million more households in 2011. With the net increase to the housing stock at or near record lows in 2011, this would significantly help reduce the excess supply of vacant housing units.

There are still downside risks - notably from housing, state and local governments and possibly from Europe - and there are still drags from the financial crisis with excessive household debt and excess capacity in many sectors. But overall it appears the outlook for 2011 is brighter.

Here is the series I wrote over the last couple of weeks, Ten Questions:
Question #1 for 2011: House Prices
Question #2 for 2011: Residential Investment
Question #3 for 2011: Delinquencies and Distressed house sales
Question #4 for 2011: U.S. Economic Growth
Question #5 for 2011: Employment
Question #6 for 2011: Unemployment Rate
Question #7 for 2011: State and Local Governments
Question #8 for 2011: Europe and the Euro
Question #9 for 2011: Inflation
Question #10 for 2011: Monetary Policy