Thursday, August 12, 2010

Q2 GDP Much Lower Because of June Trade Deficit

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

The U.S. trade deficit widened to $49.9 billion in June instead of improving as expected. This figure was missing from the second quarter GDP report and could mean a downward revision to 1.3% from the originally reported 2.4%. The lower GDP number means almost all of the growth in Q2 came from inventory accumulation and not from increased economic activity.

The U.S. trade deficit has to be funded from foreign borrowing, just like the budget deficit. Before the Credit Crisis, both used to be around the same size. Then the budget deficit exploded from record levels around $400 billion to over $1.4 trillion in 2009. The trade deficit went in the other direction, decreasing substantially, but is now coming back. The deficit in June was 19% higher than in May and would be almost $600 billion annualized. Exports fell, with computers and telecommunications equipment declining. Imports rose with consumer goods hitting a record high. Ironically, this is being made possible by the huge budget deficit the federal government is running. U.S. consumers are using the money they get from stimulus spending to buy foreign goods - something that will only lower U.S. economic growth.

The trade deficit reducing the GDP number for the second quarter has far wider implications than growth just being anemic. It confirms that the economic 'recovery' that supposedly started in the summer of 2009 has been based almost entirely on changes in inventories. From the Q3 of 2009 to Q1 of 2010, around two-thirds of the growth reported came from the inventory category. This fell to 44% in the first reading of this year's Q2 GDP, still a high number, but better than the 71% from Q1. If Q2 is revised down to 1.3%, the 1.05% that inventory contributed to GDP would represent 81% of total growth. Excessive inventory accumulation means lower GDP growth or even drops in future quarters.

Stocks turned ugly yesterday, whether because of the implications that growth was much weaker in Q2 than the originally reported number or because the realities of the Fed's August meeting finally sank in, is not clear. The Dow Industrials were down 265 points or 2.5%, the S&P 500 lost 32 points or 2.9%, Nasdaq dropped 69 point or 3.1% and the small cap Russell 2000 fell 26 points or 4.1%. Market weakness continued this morning and stocks are starting to suffer serious technical damage, which could lead to much bigger drops in the coming weeks ahead.

A just released NBC/Wall Street Journal survey indicates that close to two-thirds of the American public think that the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. Mainstream economists now think GDP growth will be 2.5% in the second half of the year. The Fed still thinks it will be above 3%. For months, both have denied the possibility of a double-dip recession. Increasingly negative economic reports however indicate another recession may have already arrived.

Disclosure: No positions.

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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