"Economists are pessimists: they've predicted 8 of the last 3 depressions."
--Barry Asmus

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Q2 2011 Gross Domestic Product, First Revision

This is it.  The ur-metric.  The Platonic form of economic figures.  Everything else we look at is just an aspect, a shadow, of the Gross Domestic Product.  Everything else measures portions of the economy, but the Gross Domestic Product is the economy.
Of course, what we have today isn't all that impressive.  Last month, we got an initial release of data, subject to revision twice.  That data showed that GDP grew at an annual rate of 1.3% for the quarter (substantially missing expectations), and that the GDP price index increased at an annual rate of 3.2% (also badly missing expectations).  Current-dollar personal income increased 4.2%, personal current taxes increased $22.6 billion, and personal outlays increased 3.1%.
This month, we get the initial revisions.  So we're a little closer to knowing how the economy actually performed in Q2, but we won't have any actual number until this time next month.  The Econoday-surveyed analysts are pessimistic, expecting the Q2 GDP growth to be revised downwards to 1.1%, although they are also expecting the GDP price index growth to be revised downwards to 2.3%.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis provides the actual numbers in their Gross Domestic Product, 2nd quarter 2011 (second estimate) report, and it is a gut punch.  The first revision has adjusted GDP downwards to an annual rate of 1.0% (missing expectations, but still better than Q1's 0.4% growth), while the GDP price index has been adjusted upwards to 3.3%.  Yes, that means that economic growth is trending downward while costs are increasing.
So, yeah.  Not a good sign, and I would expect the markets to react in a negative fashion.  Any overwhelming hysteria will probably hold off until around 10:30 or so, because Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will be speaking on the economy at a Kansas City Fed conference at 10 AM today.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

First Time Jobless Claims

Oh my gosh!  Did he finally write a market news post?  Yes he did!  Wow!
Self-sarcasm aside, it's time for the oft-depressing First Time Jobless Claims report.  If you recall from last week, we had a week of bad news.  The 8/6 initial jobless claims were adjusted downwards to 399,000, but the 8/13 advance figure for seasonally adjusted claims came in at an expectations-missing 408,000.  The unadjusted number of actual initial claims for 8/13 was at 342,669 (down 8,701 from the previous week), and the total number of people claiming benefits in all programs fell to 7,336,178 (a decline of 143,737, which we established wasn't as much good news as it sounds like).
For the week ending 8/20, the Econoday-surveyed analysts are anticipating tepid improvement.  They're looking for a consensus estimate of 405,000 new claims, with the range between a low of 400k and a high of 415k.
For the news on whether or not the analysts are right, and on whether or not crippling despair is likely to crush the spirit of the marketplace, we turn now to the Unemployment Insurance Weekly Claims Report.  Said report begins with the ominous statement:  "Special Factor: As a result of a labor dispute between Communications Workers of America and Verizon Communications, at least 12,500 initial claims were filed in the week ending 8/13/2011 and at least 8,500 initial claims were filed in the week ending 8/20/2011 ."  This has had a noticeable impact on the report.
First of all, the initial claims figures for 8/13 have been revised upwards to a level of - wait for it - 412.000.  Yes, that is a 13,000 upwards revision, and it is almost entirely driven by that labor dispute mentioned above.
Next, the seasonally adjusted initial claims for 8/20 have missed expectations by a significant degree, coming in at 417,000.  Taking the Verizon news into account, this means that we might have seen the initial claims come in at 409k if the special factor hadn't become a factor.  That would have still been disappointing, of course, but probably not as bad.
As far as the actual number of claims go, the total number of initial claims for 8/20 was 341,436, an extremely modest decline in the rate of new claims.  Finally, the number of people claiming benefits in all programs fell (almost) 45k to a level of 7,290.189.  Whether that is good or bad news is left as an exercise for the reader.