The Coming Boom or Not

November 27, 2016

For most of Obama’s time in the White House, the Republican led House has fought more borrowing to repair the nation’s decaying infrastructure.  The incoming Trump administration has promised to fulfill a campaign pledge to spend $500 billion or more on these repairs. Funding this spending while reducing taxes may prove to be improbable.  A lack of available labor in parts of the country may stress the economies of some states.

In 2010, economists Robert Frank and Paul Krugman recommended additional infrastructure spending to take care of much needed repairs at low interest rates and an idle construction workforce.  In February 2010, the unemployment rate among construction workers was 27% (FRED).

Since early 2010 construction spending has increased by 42% (FRED).  As older workers in the field retire, the severe downturn in the housing industry dissuaded many young workers from entering the profession in the past decade.  Following the housing bust and the 2008 crisis, many workers native to Mexico left the U.S. to find lower paying work in their home country. Continuing high unemployment did not attact new migrant workers who would contribute to the productivity of the U.S. economy. A mood of hostility towards foreigners has furthered dampened the appeal of work in the U.S.  Only the desperate now risk the dangers of crossing the border.

While roofing companies struggle to find workers at $20 an hour, farmers are simply leaving crops to rot for lack of available workers to pick the vegetables and fruits.  Automated picking machines still can not tell ripe from unripe produce. As job openings go unfilled, employers cut back on plans for expansion.  After six years of paralysis and debate, fiscal stimulus may be achievable under a Trump regime.  Irony may have the final curtain if the extra spending is too much too late. Readers with a WSJ subscription can read more here.


Existing Home Sales

Sales of existing homes in October notched a recovery high at 5.6 million.  Home prices are rising fastest in the western states at a 7.8% clip.  Prices are now 50% higher than the country’s median. (NAR)  Volume increases of 10% are far outpacing the national yearly increase of 5.9%. Expect continuing price increases in the western states.

Mortgage interest rates have risen 1/2% but are still low by comparison with past decades.  The increase has prompted an uptick in refinances.  Higher rates will put homes in some neighborhoods out of reach for first time buyers as well as current owners who were hoping to trade up.

In the early part of 2008, the delinquency rate on single family mortgages rose above 5%.  During the 90s and 00s, the rate averaged a little over 2%.  Despite seven years of recovery, escalating home prices and extremely low mortgage rates, the delinquency rate just fell below 5% earlier this year.  In short, there is still a lot of pain out there.

On the other hand, credit card delinquency is at an all time low.  So are consumer loan delinquency. Consumer credit continues to grow but at a slower pace since the financial crisis.


Commercial Loans

Tightening lending standards for large and mid-size companies has proven to be a reliable recession indicator.   When the percentage of cautious banks grows above 25%, recession has followed within the year.

We can also see periods of doubt in this chart.  In late 2011 to early 2012 a short rising spike indicates a growing caution following the budget standoff in the summer of 2011.  In response to an economic dip in the beginning of this year, banks again grew more cautious.


Stocks make new highs

Stocks continue to rise modestly on hopes of greater economic growth, future profits, lower taxes and tax policy changes.  After more than a year of declining profits, price levels are a bit rich but may be justified if…  After spiking up on election night, volatility has fallen near year to date lows.   Traders have priced in the likelihood that the Fed will raise rates in mid-December.

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