For the Economy, The Hole is the Sum of Its Parts

Saturday, January 05, 2008 at 11:55 AM

Verbatim excerpts from minutes of the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee held on December 11, 2007:

The information reviewed at the December meeting indicated that, after the robust gains of the summer, economic activity decelerated significantly in the fourth quarter. Consumption growth slowed, and survey measures of sentiment dropped further. Many readings from the business sector were also softer: Industrial production fell in October, as did orders and shipments of capital goods. Employment gains stepped down during the four months ending in November from their pace earlier in the year. Headline consumer price inflation moved higher in September and October as energy prices increased significantly; core inflation also rose but remained moderate.


Employment in residential construction posted its fourth month of sizable declines in November, and employment in housing-related sectors such as finance, real estate, and building-material and garden-supply retailers continued to trend down. Elsewhere, factory jobs declined again, while employment in most serviceproducing industries continued to move up. ...Some indicators from the household survey also suggested softening in the labor market, but the unemployment rate held steady at 4.7 percent through November [editor's note: in December, however, official unemployment rose to 5% (which is no where near its actual level, of course)].

Industrial production fell in October after small increases in the previous two months. The index for motor vehicles and parts fell for the third consecutive month, and the index for construction supplies moved down for the fourth straight month. Materials output also declined in October...Real disposable income was about unchanged in September and October. The Reuters/University of Michigan index of consumer sentiment ticked down further in early December as respondents took a more pessimistic view of the outlook for their personal finances and for business conditions in the year ahead.

In the housing market, new home sales were below their third-quarter pace, and sales of existing homes were flat in October following sharp declines in August and September. These declines likely were exacerbated by the deterioration in nonprime mortgage markets and by the higher interest rates and tighter lending conditions for jumbo loans. Single-family housing starts stepped down again in October after substantial declines in the June-September period. Yet, because of sagging sales, builders made only limited progress in paring down their substantial inventories. Single-family permit issuance continued along the steep downward trajectory that had begun two years earlier, which pointed toward further slowing in homebuilding over the near term. Multifamily starts rebounded in October from an unusually low reading in September....

Real spending on equipment and software posted a solid increase in the third quarter. In October, however, orders and shipments of nondefense capital goods excluding aircraft declined, suggesting that some deceleration in spending was under way in the fourth quarter. The October decline in orders and shipments was led by weakness in the high-tech sector: Shipments of computers and peripheral equipment declined while the industrial production index for computers was flat; orders and shipments for communications equipment plunged. Some of that weakness may have been attributable to temporary production disruptions stemming from the wildfires in Southern California; cutbacks in demand from large financial institutions affected by market turmoil may have contributed as well.

Orders for equipment outside high-tech and transportation rose in October, but shipments were about flat, pointing to a weaker fourth quarter for business spending after two quarters of brisk increases. Some prominent surveys of business conditions remained consistent with modest gains in spending on equipment and software during the fourth quarter, but other surveys were less sanguine. In addition, although the cost of capital was little changed for borrowers in the investment-grade corporate bond market, costs for borrowers in the high-yield corporate bond market were up significantly. In the third quarter, corporate cash flows appeared to have dropped off, leaving firms with diminished internally generated funds for financing investment. Data available through October suggested that nonresidential building activity remained vigorous.


Output growth in the advanced foreign economies picked up in the third quarter. In Japan, real output rebounded, led by exports. In the euro area, GDP growth returned to a solid pace in the third quarter on the back of a strong recovery in investment. In Canada and the United Kingdom, output growth moderated but remained robust, as vigorous domestic demand was partly offset by rapid growth of imports. Indicators of fourth-quarter activity in the advanced foreign economies were less robust on net. Confidence indicators had deteriorated in most major economies in the wake of the financial turmoil and remained relatively weak. In November, the euro-area and U.K. purchasing managers indexes for services were well below their level over the first half of the year; nevertheless they pointed to moderate expansion. Labor market conditions generally remained relatively strong in recent months.

Incoming data on emerging-market economies were positive on balance. Overall, growth in emerging Asia moderated somewhat in the third quarter from its double-digit pace in the second quarter, but remained strong.

Economic growth was also solid in Latin America, largely reflecting stronger-than-expected activity in Mexico.

In the United States, headline consumer price inflation increased in September and October from its low rates in the summer as the surge in crude oil prices began to be reflected in retail energy prices. In addition, though the rise in food prices in October was slower than in August and September, it remained above that of core consumer prices. Excluding food and energy, inflation was moderate, although it was up from its low rates in the spring...In response to rising energy prices, household survey measures of expectations for year-ahead inflation picked up in November and then edged higher in December. Households’ longer-term inflation expectations also edged up in both November and December. Average hourly earnings increased faster in November than in the previous two months. Over the twelve months that ended in November, however, this wage measure rose a bit more slowly than over the previous twelve months (emphasis added).

Seeing it all together in one place, even in the stilted language of the Fed, leaves a whole different impression than seeing it one little piece at a time in the media, doesn't it? All of which makes me hope against all hope that in the upcoming election, people do take one of the few good pieces of advice that Reagan ever offered up: "Don't be afraid to see what you see."

Here are a few belated New Year's predictions: by the time the Hat-in-Chief leaves the White House, there will be so much damage to this country's institutions, economy, and international reputation that damage control will be the primary work of the next 5 or more presidents--with no guaranty that the restoration efforts will succeed. Then, in about 25 to 30 years, the lunatic conservative fringe will begin their efforts to revise history and paint Bush as the "last good president before the collapse." And the revision effort will succeed among the same types of people who have bought into the Reagan-as-hero crap.



1) Rethugs are really feudal barons. EOF.

2) The Chimperor Regime qualifies as Nostradamus' "Idiot Antichrist" without exception.

3) Before Iraq, oil was comparitively cheap. Not anymore. Thank you PFUCK!

4) As I said long ago, there was no recovery, ever. We all borrowed to get by, the wolf's down the mountain. We are in deeper than ever. Even me. We prayed things would improve. They never did.

5) The MSM published bullshit to lie about this "recovery" that never was.

6) If the other financial brains are correct, we can expect a Dem landslide, as history will, again, repeat itself. I fear from Edwards or Obama: They are each to inherit a DEPRESSION.

Make that "fear for". One of them gets to play FDR.