The sky is blue …

… news at eleven.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the official business-cycle dating body for the U.S., has declared that the United States is in a recession and that it started in December 2007.

The data were a little confusing in calling the timing.  Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Gross Domestic Income (GDI) are two sides of the same coin.  Figures regarding their levels and growth rates ought to be the same and differ only because of statistical (i.e. counting) errors.  From the formal release:

The committee believes that the two most reliable comprehensive estimates of aggregate domestic production are normally the quarterly estimate of real Gross Domestic Product and the quarterly estimate of real Gross Domestic Income, both produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In concept, the two should be the same, because sales of products generate income for producers and workers equal to the value of the sales. However, because the measurement on the product and income sides proceeds somewhat independently, the two actual measures differ by a statistical discrepancy. The product-side estimates fell slightly in 2007Q4, rose slightly in 2008Q1, rose again in 2008Q2, and fell slightly in 2008Q3. The income-side estimates reached their peak in 2007Q3, fell slightly in 2007Q4 and 2008Q1, rose slightly in 2008Q2 to a level below its peak in 2007Q3, and fell again in 2008Q3. Thus, the currently available estimates of quarterly aggregate real domestic production do not speak clearly about the date of a peak in activity.

The brief respite in the middle of 2008 appears to be the result of the first fiscal stimulus package.  Nevertheless, it seems quite clear that the overall trend has been downward.

The committee declared December 2007 as the peak after looking at payroll (i.e. employment) data:

Payroll employment, the number of filled jobs in the economy based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ large survey of employers, reached a peak in December 2007 and has declined in every month since then. An alternative measure of employment, measured by the BLS’s household survey, reached a peak in November 2007, declined early in 2008, expanded temporarily in April to a level below its November 2007 peak, and has declined in every month since April 2008.

… and personal income (less transfer payments):

Our measure of real personal income less transfers peaked in December 2007, displayed a zig-zag pattern from then until June 2008 at levels slightly below the December 2007 peak, and has generally declined since June.

… and real manufacturing and wholesale-retail trade sales:

Real manufacturing and wholesale-retail trade sales reached a well-defined peak in June 2008.

… and the Federal Reserve Board’s index of industrial production:

This measure has quite restricted coverage—it includes manufacturing, mining, and utilities but excludes all services and government. Industrial production peaked in January 2008, fell through May 2008, rose slightly in June and July, and then fell substantially from July to September. It rose somewhat in October with the resumption of oil production disturbed by hurricanes in the previous month. The October value of the industrial production index remained a substantial 4.7 percent below its value in January 2008.

The only really interesting thing in all of this to me is to observe that the first fiscal stimulus and the corresponding positive growth in 2008:Q2 saved some embarrassment for the Republican Party.  The negative 2008:Q3 figures were only released on the 25th of November, three weeks after the U.S. election.  Had the 2008:Q2 figures been even faintly negative, there may have been considerable (and, I think, reasonable) pressure for the recession to have been formally recognised in the middle of the campaign.

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