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Posts Tagged ‘US economy’

Has the US caught a cold?

The growing interdependence of economies has never been more true than over the past few years. The credit crunch began in the US and gradually spread to the rest of the world. As the saying goes, ‘when America sneezes, the world catches a cold’. The US economy is the largest in the world and with such a close relationship to the UK, its economic situation is critical. GDP growth in the first quarter was a mere 0.4% and in the second quarter, it was revised down from the US Commerce Department’s original estimate of 1.3% to just 1%. This was attributed to weaker growth in business inventories, a fall in exports and less spending from the state and local governments. Personal consumption expenditure and exports did rise, but the increase in the former was hardly noticeable (0.4%) and in both cases, the second quarter increase was significantly down on that in the first quarter.

With GDP growth remaining low, there’s not much better news when it comes to US unemployment, which remained at 9.1% from July. It was expected that a further 70,000 jobs would be created in August, but the latest figures suggest that no new jobs were created. It seems that the data on growth and the components of aggregate demand are enough to bring consumer and investor confidence down. Virginie Maisonneuve said:

‘Companies that are overall doing OK are hesitating to hire and invest further, creating some fragility for the economy… We will need some help from the Fed and the government to avoid a recession.’

President Obama is due to make a speech in which he will outline a new plan to boost economic growth. Crucial to this will be restoring confidence, as without it, businesses will not invest, consumers will save rather than spend, jobs will not be created and growth will remain sluggish. This will do nothing to help the still weak economies of Europe. Indeed, following news of the US job situation, stock markets across the world fell, as fears of recession set in. The Dow Jones opened 2% down, the FTSE 100 ended 2.3% down (although this was also affected by a weakening in the construction sector), markets in Germany, France and Spain were down by over 3% and in Italy by over 4%.

US GDP revised down to 1pc in second quarter as growth stalls Telegraph (26/8/11)
US economy: no new jobs added in August BBC News (2/9/11)
Jobs data confirm US growth fears Financial Times, Robin Harding and Johanna Kassel (2/9/11)
Markets fall on weak U jobs data BBC News (2/9/11)
FTSE falls after weak US jobs data The Press Association (2/9/11)
European stocks knocked by dire US jobs data Reuters (2/9/11)
Fears over US economy cause world market route Economic Times (2/9/11)
FTSE 100 extends losses after poor US non farm payroll figures Guardian (2/9/11)

Questions

  1. What is aggregate demand? Which component is the biggest engine of growth for an economy?
  2. Why did markets decline following the data on US jobs?
  3. Why is the economic situation in America so important to the economic recovery of other countries across Europe?
  4. Why are there suggestions that the US is underestimating its inflation?
  5. Why is the US economic data for the second quarter of 2011 so much worse than that of the first quarter? What could have caused this downturn?
  6. What action could the government and the Fed take to boost confidence in the US economy and stimulate economic growth? Can any of this be done without causing inflation?
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Will the Fed redouble its efforts to prevent a double dip?

Recent data on the US economy suggest that it may be heading back towards recession. Confidence is waning as growth slows. US GDP growth figures for the second quarter of 2010 have just been revised downwards: from 2.4% to 1.6%. And although growth is still quite strongly positive, unemployment is not coming down.

Most economists still think that the US economy will avoid a double dip, but many think that it is nevertheless a distinct possibility. For example, economists at Goldman Sachs put the likelihood of a double-dip recession at 25% to 30%, which although less than 50% is still a substantial risk.

Ben Bernanke, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, told a gathering of bankers and economists in Wyoming on August 27 that the Fed “will do all that it can” to avoid a double dip. According to Bernanke:

In many countries, including the United States and most other advanced industrial nations, growth during the past year has been too slow and joblessness remains too high… Central bankers alone cannot solve the world’s economic problems. That said, monetary policy continues to play a prominent role in promoting the economic recovery and will be the focus of my remarks today.

Bernanke outlined four monetary policy options that could be pursued, the first three of which were real possibilities for the Fed if economic growth did stall.

• The first would be to sell long-term government securities on the open market – a form of open-market operation. This quantitative easing would expand the money supply and should push long-term interest rates down (short-term interest rates are already virtually zero).

• The second would be to reduce interest rates paid to banks on reserves held in the Fed. These are currently around 0.25% and hence the scope for reductions here are very limited

• The third would be to promise to keep short-term interest rates low for a longer period than markets currently expect, thereby assuring markets that borrowing would remain cheap for some considerable time.

• The fourth option, and one not currently contemplated by the Fed, would be to raise the inflation rate target above its current level of 1.5% to 2%.

The first of the following two podcasts, which includes an interview with US Managing Editor of the Financial Times, Gillian Tett, looks at what the Fed might do. Is the solution to expand aggregate demand through monetary policy or are the problems more structural in nature? The other podcasts and the articles look at Bernanke’s proposals and their scope for avoiding a double dip.

Podcasts
‘No magic wand’ for US economy BBC Today Programme, Mark Mardell and Gillian Tett (27/8/10)
Fed Offers Higher Ground In Economic Mudslide NPR, Scott Horsley (28/8/10)
Roubini Interview Excerpt Bloomberg, Nouriel Roubini (27/8/10)

Articles
Bernanke Says Fed Will Do `All It Can’ to Ensure U.S. Recovery Bloomberg, Craig Torres and Scott Lanman (27/8/10)
What ammunition does the Fed have left? Reuters (27/8/10)
Fed is prepared to keep U.S. out of recession, Bernanke vows Los Angeles Times, Jim Puzzanghera (28/8/10)
Bernanke soothes rattled markets Telegraph (28/8/10)
Ben Bernanke promises to step in as US economy veers back towards recession Guardian, Katie Allen (27/8/10)
Shoot out at Jackson Hole – the world’s central bankers take aim at deflation Independent, Sean O’Grady (27/8/10)
Treasury Two-Year Yields Increase Most Since April After Bernanke Speech Bloomberg, Cordell Eddings (28/8/10)
Bernanke speech shows effort to find Fed consensus One News Now, Jeannine Aversa (28/8/10)
Analysis: The uncomfortable mathematics of monetary policy Reuters, Pedro Nicolaci da Costa (28/8/10)
Ben Bernanke calls for help to revive the stuttering US economy Guardian, Richard Adams (28/8/10)
Fed stands by to boost US growth Financial Times, Robin Harding, Michael Mackenzie and Alan Rappeport (27/8/10)
Bernanke outlines options for Fed Financial Times, Robin Harding (27/8/10)

Speech
The Economic Outlook and Monetary Policy Ben Bernanke (27/8/10)

Data
US Bond Rates Yahoo Finance
US interest rates Federal Reserve Statistical Release

Questions

  1. Why is growth in the US economy slowing?
  2. Why has the recovery from recession in the USA so far not resulted in a reduction in unemployment?
  3. What structural problems are there in the US economy?
  4. What further scope is there for monetary policy in stimulating the US economy?
  5. What are the arguments for the Fed introducing a new programme of quantitative easing?
  6. How important are expectations in determining whether the US recovery will be maintained or whether there will be a double-dip recession?
  7. What impact did Bernanke’s speech have on bond markets and why?
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