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Sunday, October 25, 2009 11:40 AM


Will Stimulus Take Hold?


Timothy R. Homan, writing for Bloomberg says GDP Probably Grew as Stimulus Took Hold

The economy in the U.S. probably grew in the third quarter at the fastest pace in two years as government stimulus helped bring an end to the worst recession since the 1930s, economists said before reports this week.

The world’s largest economy grew at a 3.2 percent pace from July through September after shrinking the previous four quarters, according to the median estimate of 65 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Other reports may show sales of new homes and orders for long-lasting goods increased.

Americans flocked to auto showrooms and real-estate offices last quarter to take advantage of government programs such as “cash-for-clunkers” and tax credits for first-time homebuyers. Growing demand caused stockpiles to keep falling, which will prompt companies to rev up assembly lines and help sustain the recovery into 2010 even as unemployment climbs.

“The recovery is off to a decent but unspectacular start,” said Joe Brusuelas, a director at Moody’s Economy.com in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “While another large drawdown in inventories will be a drag on third-quarter growth, it sets the stage for a longer and stronger upturn in manufacturing.”

Consumer spending last quarter probably jumped at a 3.1 percent annual rate from the previous three months, the biggest gain since the first quarter of 2007, the GDP report is also projected to show.

September readings on household purchases, due from the Commerce Department on Oct. 30, may show the quarter ended on a soft note after the Obama administration’s car incentive expired the month before. Spending probably fell 0.5 percent last month as car sales slowed after jumping 1.3 percent in August, the biggest gain since 2001.

The so-called cash-for-clunkers program offered buyers discounts of as much as $4,500 to trade in older cars and trucks for new, more fuel-efficient vehicles. The plan boosted sales by about 700,000 vehicles, according to a Transportation Department estimate.

Homebuyer Credit

The administration’s $787 billion stimulus package, signed into law in February, included an $8,000 tax credit for first- time homebuyers that expires at the end of November.
Take Hold Of What?

If the government gave everyone $4,500 I am sure we would see a fine increase in spending. However, I am equally sure nothing would "take hold" except that the dollar would go into a free-fall, which of course is the opposite of take hold.

Cash for clunkers ended, pushing demand forward. Now what?

Uncle Sam Adds 5% to Prices of Homes

Goldman Sachs says Uncle Sam Adds 5% to Prices of Homes.
Uncle Sam’s interventions in the housing market have pushed home prices 5% higher on a national average than they would have been otherwise, Goldman Sachs estimates in a report released late Friday.

The government over the past year has slowed the pace of foreclosures through moratoria and the drive to modify mortgage terms to keep more borrowers in their homes. It also has pumped up demand for housing by giving tax credits to many first-time home buyers and by driving down mortgage interest rates. As a result, home prices in some areas have risen in recent months, particularly for homes that appeal to investors and first-time buyers. Bidding wars for the more attractive bank-owned homes have become common.

But these artificial props won’t last forever and may have created a false bottom in the market. “The risk of renewed home-price declines remains significant,” Goldman economist Alec Phillips writes in the report, “and our working assumption is a further 5% to 10% decline by mid-2010.”
False Bottom Indeed

I am and have been in the "false bottom" camp (even calling for a false bottom in advance). The fact remains, homes are still not affordable and inventories are high, yet artificially low. How can that be? Easy. There is a huge amount of shadow inventory as noted in Zombie Subdivisions and "Pig In The Python" Shadow Inventory.

That shadow inventory is poised to come out of the woodwork in the next decline as the pool of early fools dries up. Granted, there are way more bargains than three years ago when there were no bargains at all, but most are jumping the gun and this insane $8,000 tax credit is not helping anything in the long run.

Unfortunately, the tax credit is temporarily inflating home prices that are still out of line with wage and job growth. Once the stimulus ends, prices will resume deflating. Moreover, even if the stimulus does not end, prices will resume deflating (it will just take longer).

Shrinking Pool Of Greater Fools

Once everyone who wants a house and can afford a house has one, price appreciation will stall or go into reverse. The difference between now and 2006 is people are not buying 3 houses and a vacation home. Nor are lenders willing to finance three houses and a vacation home. Nor are lenders willing to do liar loans, pay option ARMs or other toxic financing. Thus, the pool of greater fools is far smaller than in 2006.

UK Stimulus Dies On Vine

Across the Atlantic, things are not looking so hot in the UK. Please consider BOE More Likely to Expand Bond Purchases After GDP Slump.
Britain’s failure to escape the worst recession since World War II may force the Bank of England to increase its bond-purchase plan next month, economists said.

Seven months after Governor Mervyn King’s central bank started a 175 billion-pound ($286 billion) program to rescue the economy, the Office for National Statistics said yesterday gross domestic product unexpectedly shrank 0.4 percent in the third quarter. None of the 33 economists surveyed by Bloomberg predicted a contraction.

The GDP figures “reopen a serious possibility that the Monetary Policy Committee increases its QE target,” said Philip Shaw, chief economist at Investec Securities in London, in a note titled “Champagne Corks Go Back Into Bottles.”

“It seems to me inconceivable that the recession is deepening and the housing market is recovering,” said Steven Bell, chief economist at London-based hedge fund GLC Ltd. and a former U.K. Treasury official. “The last refuge of the failed forecaster is to challenge the statistics, but that’s what I’m left with.”
Illusion of Stimulus

Here is a snip worth rereading from U.S. Faces Second Lost Decade "Because" of Misguided Stimulus written by my friend "HB"
I know Romer best for her misinterpretation of what happened in 1937-38. She believes that the fallback into full-scale depression from 'depression light' (as evidenced by unemployment in 1938 almost returning to the highest levels of the depression trough 32/33) is proof that it was a mistake to tighten policy (fiscal and monetary) too early.

In other words, according to her, if the Fed had continued pumping as furiously as possible, then everything would have been alright.

In reality, the entire inflationary mini-boomlet-within-the-depression was simply an illusion. 'GDP growth' that is bought with monetary pumping and feckless fiscal spending only misdirects and ultimately consumes even more scarce capital.

Fiscal stimulus may temporarily give the impression of a recovery, but it is not a genuine recovery. It makes things worse. The moment the pumping is abandoned, the true state of affairs is simply unmasked. That is what happened in 37/38 - a slight tightening of monetary policy revealed the fact that the mini-boomlet was as unsound as its predecessor boom in the years prior to the '29 crash.

It would not have been possible to hide this reality forever. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that government intervention can achieve in terms of 'fixing' the economy. The choice was in either abandoning the unsound policy and the unsound investments it produced, or careen toward a complete destruction of the currency system.

Once again, I stand amazed at how people can look at this, and look at Japan, and look at the housing bubble/bust sequence, and still believe that monetary pumping and deficit spending are viable tools of economic policy when a bust occurs. It really boggles the mind, reminding me of Einstein's definition of insanity, 'doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result'.
Champagne Corks To Go Back Into Bottles

The hard reality of an "L" shaped recovery or a string of "WWs" looms large, leading indicators be damned. Please see A Look at ECRI's Recession Predicting Track Record for details.

Any celebrating in the US (or Canada, or China, or Australia, or anywhere else) is simply premature.

In the coming months, expect to see more comments like “The last refuge of the failed forecaster is to challenge the statistics, but that’s what I’m left with.

By the way, that is how the term "stagflation" came about. Under misguided Keynesian logic it was impossible to have a recession and inflation at the same time. We all know how that worked out.

In the US and globally we are in uncharted territory. Odds are we will see many things we have never seen before as stimulus after stimulus fails to produce desired results. Actual results, as in the examples above may very well be unbelievable to all the Keynesian and Monetarist clowns.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
http://globaleconomicanalysis.blogspot.com
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