Would Reaganomics Work Today?

The key drivers that propelled the Reagan economy are now tapped out or out of favor.

The name of Ronald Reagan is frequently evoked by the current contenders to the GOP nomination. Donald Trump speaks admiringly of the 40th President of the United States and uses a truncated version of his 1980 campaign slogan “Let’s Make America Great Again”. Ted Cruz promises to implement Reagan’s solution of lower taxes, lower regulation and a stronger military. Before he bowed out recently, Marco Rubio was equal in his praise. And John Kasich stakes an even more tangible claim by reminding us that he is the only candidate who actually worked with Reagan. Read more

Now a Trade Partnership with Africa?

A few days ago, the United States reached agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with eleven other nations (see list in tables below). Here is how the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) describes the TPP on its web page:

President Obama’s trade agenda is dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses. That’s why we are negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 21st century trade agreement that will boost U.S. economic growth, support American jobs, and grow Made-in-America exports to some of the most dynamic and fastest growing countries in the world.

Read more

The Candidates’ Other Demographic Challenge

It is massively larger than 11 million illegals.

Hans Rosling, co-founder of Gapminder, calls it “the biggest change of our time”. It is Africa’s population growth from 1 billion people today to 2.5 billion by 2050 and 4 billion by 2100.

You could say that a close “second biggest change of our time” is the aging and stagnation of the population in rich countries. The combined population of North America, Europe, Japan and Australia/New Zealand is now at 1.3 billion and it will remain at 1.3 billion by 2050 and 2100 with small gains in North America and Oceania offset by declines in Europe and Japan. Read more

US GDP: Is 4% Growth Achievable?

The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times say no.

While announcing his presidential campaign Monday, Jeb Bush said:

There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4% a year. And that will be my goal as president—4% growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.

As a cruising speed, 4%+ GDP growth is achievable but only under very favorable conditions. Read more

The Lottery of Birth Place and Time

“When I attempt to find a simple formula for the period in which I grew up, prior to the First World War, I hope that I convey its fullness by calling it the Golden Age of Security.”

Thus begins the autobiography The World of Yesterday in which the Austrian author Stefan Zweig, born in 1881, recounts his early life in Vienna at the height of the Belle Époque. It was a time of high culture, of prosperity, and of people who believed that war was forever relegated to the past. Then came the shock of WW1, the breakup of Austria-Hungary, the difficult inter-war period, Zweig’s own forced exile, the horrors of WW2, and finally death. Zweig and his wife committed suicide in Brazil, far from Vienna and very far from the Belle Époque, in early 1942 at a time when the Nazis still looked unbeatable. Read more

Why is GDP Growth so Weak?

A preliminary reading of US GDP for Q1 2015 came out today at +0.2%, below the 1% expected by economists. The severe winter weather undoubtedly played an important role and the economy may experience a strong rebound in Q2 and Q3 as it did last year (2014 Q1: -2.1% Q2: +4.6%, Q3: +5%). But the recovery since 2009 remains weak compared to preceding ones. As noted in various posts on this site, US demographics are partly responsible.

As shown in the table, in the 23 quarters since the recession ended, this recovery has only seen 7 quarters of 3%+ growth, while the two previous recoveries, after the 1991 and 2001 recessions, saw 13 and 12 quarters of 3%+ growth.

GDPQuarters (1)

During the two previous recoveries, population growth averaged 1% per year but in the current recovery, it has averaged 0.7%. More important, the number of Americans aged 30 to 60 grew steadily from 1978 to 2005 but it has been flatlining at about 122 million people since 2005 and will continue to do so until 2020.

These two factors explain why this recovery has seen fewer strong quarters than those of the 1990s and 2000s.

Related posts:

It’s the Demography, Stupid

The Economy’s New Boss: Demographics

Is America Heading Towards Zero Population Growth?

New Home Sales: Better but Still Historically Weak

New home sales for February were stronger than expected, at an annualized pace of 539,000 units vs. 465,000 expected. This is good news because it is the highest number since early 2008. However, the chart below shows that we are still dealing with a depressed single-family housing market.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.30.11 AM (2)

First, it is clear that we are very far below the peak recorded near 1.4 million in the mid-2000s. Second, if we dismiss that period as an irrational bubble, it is still a fact that a 539,000 reading is in the bottom half of the historic range of 400K-800K. In fact, if we ignore recessionary periods (shaded areas), new home construction has not been this low since the 1960s when the US population totaled under 200 million vs. about 320 million now and when household size was larger than it is today.

It is true that multi-family construction is now more prominent than in the past and that it mitigates the sluggishness in single-family construction. As seen below, multi-family housing volumes now exceed the high preceding the 2008 crisis.

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 11.04.43 AM (2)

But if we use a back of the envelope approach and use a figure in the low 300,000 multi-family annual units as an historic average, we could say that the last multi-family reading is about 150,000 units above average. We could then argue that these 150,000 were ‘shifted’ from single-family homes. (That may be a generous assumption, considering that a large share of these multi-family buildings are destined to be rentals. Nonetheless the higher demand for rentals can also be considered a secular ‘shift’ that should be counted.)

Without this shift in living preferences, we could then argue that single-family sales would have been about 150,000 higher and closer to a 700,000 annual pace. That is a much better figure than 539,000 but still not very robust compared to the past, given low interest rates, the growth in population and the decrease in household size. In my view, keeping these factors in mind, an adjusted figure north of 800,000 single-family units would be closer to the historic norm. We should therefore be looking for a monthly report of at least 650,000 single family homes before we can talk about a return to normal.

In US Housing and Demographics, I made an argument three years ago that the housing market would be weak until at least 2020 because of adverse demographics. So far, it looks like the recent data supports my thesis. Homebuilder stocks have risen since then. This is based in part on optimistic anticipation of greater home sales, and in part on the fact that homebuilders have been quite adept at identifying and directing their efforts at higher growth areas of the country.