The Future's so Bright ...

It looks like economic growth will pickup over the next few years. I've written about this before - a combination of growth in the key housing sector, a significant amount of household deleveraging behind us, the end of the drag from state and local government layoffs (four years of austerity nearing the end), some loosening of household credit, and the Fed staying accommodative (with a 7.8% unemployment rate and inflation below the Fed's target, the Fed will remain accommodative).


The key short term risk is too much additional deficit reduction too quickly. There is a strong argument that the "fiscal agreement" might be a little too much with the current unemployment rate - my initial estimate was that Federal government austerity would subtract about 1.5 percentage points from growth in 2013 (Merrill Lynch estimate up to 2.0 percentage points including an estimate for the coming sequester agreement).   This means another year of sluggish growth, even with an improved private sector (retail will be impacted by the payroll tax increase).  But ex-austerity, we'd probably be looking at a decent year.


Here are a few graphs:

Total Housing Starts and Single Family Housing StartsClick on graph for larger image.


This graph shows total and single family housing starts. Even after the 28.1% in 2012, the 780 thousand housing starts in 2012 were the fourth lowest on an annual basis since the Census Bureau started tracking starts in 1959. Starts averaged 1.5 million per year from 1959 through 2000.  Demographics and household formation suggests starts will return to close to that level over the next few years. That means starts will come close to doubling from the 2012 level.


Residential investment and housing starts are usually the best leading indicator for economy, so this suggests the economy will continue to grow over the next couple of years.

State and Local GovernmentThe second graph shows total state and government payroll employment since January 2007. State and local governments lost 129,000 jobs in 2009, 262,000 in 2010, and 230,000 in 2011. In 2012, state and local government employment declined by 26,000 jobs.


Note: The dashed line shows an estimate including the benchmark revision.


It appears most of the state and local government layoffs are over. Some states like California are close to running a surplus, and, as the BLS reported this morning, even Nevada is seeing a sharp improvement in the unemployment rate.

US Federal Government Budget Surplus DeficitAnd another key graph on the US deficit. As we've been discussing, the US deficit as a percent of GDP has been declining, and will probably decline to around 3% in fiscal 2015.


This graph shows the actual (purple) budget deficit each year as a percent of GDP, and an estimate for the next three years based on current policy (Jan Hatzius at Goldman Sachs estimates the deficit will 3% of GDP in 2015).  Note: With 7.8% unemployment, there is a strong argument for less deficit reduction in the short term, but that doesn't seem to be getting any traction.

Total Household Debt Here are a couple of graph on household debt (and debt service):


This graph from the the NY Fed shows aggregate consumer debt decreased in Q3. This was mostly due to a decline in mortgage debt.


Household debt peaked in Q2 2008 and has been declining for over four years. There is probably more deleveraging ahead (mostly from foreclosures and distressed sales), but this suggests some improvement in household balance sheets.

Fed Debt ServiceThe second graph is from the Fed's Household Debt Service and Financial Obligations Ratios. These ratios show the percent of disposable personal income (DPI) dedicated to debt service (DSR) and financial obligations (FOR) for households.


The graph shows the DSR for both renters and homeowners (red), and the homeowner financial obligations ratio for mortgages and consumer debt. The overall Debt Service Ratio has declined back to early 1980s levels, and is near the record low - thanks to very low interest rates. The homeowner's financial obligation ratio for consumer debt is at 1994 levels.


The blue line is the homeowner's financial obligation ratio for mortgages (blue). This ratio increased rapidly during the housing bubble, and continued to increase until 2008. Now, with falling interest rates, and less mortgage debt (mostly due to foreclosures), the ratio is back to 2001 levels. This will probably decline further, but for many homeowners, the obligation ratio is low.


There are several tailwinds for the economy, and the headwinds (like household deleveraging) are mostly subsiding.   Deficit reduction is on a reasonable path - we don't want to reduce the deficit much faster than this projection for the next few years, because that will be too much of a drag on the economy.


Overall it appears the economy is poised for more growth over the next few years.

What about the longer term?


There are a number of longer term challenges from rising health care expenditures, climate change, income and wealth inequality and more, but I remain very optimistic about the longer term too. There is a constant focus on the aging population, but by 2020, eight of the top ten largest cohorts (five year age groups) will be under 40, and by 2030 the top 11 cohorts are the youngest 11 cohorts. The renewing of America!  And these young people are smart (less exposure to lead is a significant story), and well educated too. I'll write more on the long term soon.


Last year, I said that looking forward I was the most optimistic since the '90s. And things are only getting better. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Yes, the song was about nuclear holocaust ... but it was originally intended the way I'm using it.

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