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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Economic Outlook and Daily Summary

by Calculated Risk on 2/01/2011 02:41:00 PM

I’ve been writing this blog for over six years now - and there are many people to thank - and I’m still enjoying the process. I use the blog to track economic data and occasionally post some analysis.

Of course I have no crystal ball, and I try to link to the source data, when available, so readers can draw their own conclusions (I'm well aware that many people disagree with my views).

I’m going to add a daily summary and analysis post, usually around 4 PM ET, although sometimes earlier, like today because the vehicle sales data will be available around 4 PM, and sometimes later because – well, sometimes I’m especially lazy.

For the U.S. economy, there have been two huge stories over the last 5 or 6 years. The first was the housing / credit bubble, followed by the housing bust and financial crisis ... and everything related. The second has been the sluggish and choppy recovery that started in the 2nd half of 2009 and is ongoing. Hopefully I’ve gotten both stories mostly right.

Some people question whether it is a real “recovery” with significant fiscal and monetary support, and with the unemployment rate at 9.4%. I understand. This is definitely a fragile recovery, but it does appear both GDP and employment (finally) are improving.

This will be a difficult transition from life support to a self-sustaining recovery, but it does appear that GDP and employment growth will be better in 2011 than in 2010. Here is my current economic outlook:

• GDP growth better in 2011 than in 2010, but still not strong recovery given the slack in the system. I expect real GDP growth of 3.5% to 4.0% this year.

• Similarly, I expect employment growth to be better in 2011 than in 2010. I’m forecasting something close to 200 thousand private sector jobs on average per month this year.

• I think the inflation rate (by the core measures) will stay below the Fed's 2% target throughout 2011.

• Also I don't think the Fed will raise rates in 2011. I do think the Fed will buy the entire $600 billion of LSAP (or QE2). As I mentioned yesterday, I think there is a good possibility that the Fed will taper off the QE2 program instead of ending it abruptly in June. I think the size will remain the same, but the purchase program will be decreased gradually over a few additional months (like through the end of Q3).

• There are several downside risks: European issues, state and local government budget cuts and some possible defaults, housing issues (falling house prices, more foreclosures), and rising commodity / oil prices.

For more, see the The Brighter Outlook (and the Ten Questions for 2011 at the bottom).

The data this morning is consistent with this outlook.

ISM Manufacturing Index increases in January

This was a strong report and above expectations. The new orders and employment indexes were especially strong. Here is the graph of the ISM index.

Private Construction Spending decreases in December

This was weak as expected. However the story with construction spending is that residential investment will probably pick up in 2011, adding to both GDP and employment for the first time since 2005. This is most obvious in the multi-family sector.

And non-residential investment will probably bottom mid-year, and the drag on GDP and employment is almost over from this sector. Earlier this morning I posted:

Q4 Investment: Office, Mall, Lodging and Residential Components

Those graphs show that office, mall and lodging investment are probably near a bottom – I don’t think investment will fall much further. The second graph shows residential investment, and I expect both multi-family and single family to increase in 2011 (although single family growth will be sluggish because of the overhang of existing vacant homes). That is why the data from the Census Bureau yesterday is important:

Q4 2010: Homeownership Rate Falls to 1998 Levels

It appears the number of excess housing units is declining. Finally, it takes over a year, on average, to complete a multi-family building. So even though investment will pick up in 2011, the number of units completed will be at record lows this year – and that will help absorb the excess units.