Same economic stats, different story
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Paul Zukowski provides a monthly economic report that gets past the boring stuff with a little humor and a lot of insight. His goal is to equip you with the economic analysis tools you need to help keep competitors from eating your lunch.
The changing of the guard at the White House on Jan. 20 presents both the incoming and outgoing administrations a special opportunity to have their way with economic statistics. We can expect a lot of speculation on whether the economic glass is half-full or half-empty — or even completely empty to the tune of trillions of dollars.
The truth of the matter is that many different scenarios can be constructed using the same facts and numbers. That's why economists rarely agree on anything, and it's necessary to round up great herds of them and come to a consensus, like Bloomberg and The Wall Street Journal do.
The outlook is murky at best. President-elect Donald Trump has espoused several economic policy ideas, including reductions in both corporate and individual income taxes, an increase in infrastructure spending programs, and changes to trade agreements — any of which could have unforeseen long-term consequences.
So which metrics and indicators will help us judge whether the economy is doing great? MSN Money came up with five indicators you may not have heard of that could speak volumes in the months ahead.
1. The almighty dollar
Let's start with an easy one: the strength of the U.S. dollar.
On an entirely personal level, if you travel to Europe when the dollar is strong, you can trade greenbacks for more euros and maybe decide to stay in a better hotel. But countries that have borrowed U.S. dollars will be finding it harder to pay the interest on their loans.
There are many other aspects of a stronger dollar — it's really not so easy to grasp after all. The Trade-Weighted U.S. Dollar broad index tracks the dollar against a large basket group of currencies, and was recently at a level last seen in early 2002.
2. Capital flows
You can't have capitalism without capital, and watching the rate at which capital flows into the U.S. is a critical metric. There are many types of capital flows, including purchasing real estate, stocks and bonds, and other more direct investments in the economy.
The key point is that the money keep flowing into the U.S. and never the reverse. If you're curious, see the Institute for International Finance website where they track capital flows around the world and issue reports.
3. Debt defaults
As you may know, a loan that is not being paid back on time is classified as "bad" debt, which may turn into a total default. In fact, mortgage defaults are what crippled our economy during the Great Recession.
So when the number of bad debts rises and the default rate increases, that's an accurate indicator of the poor health of the economy.
The many metrics available include the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Composite index, which has been steadily falling since May 2009. (If you've been paying attention, you should realize that is a good thing.)
4. Net nonresidential fixed investment
This metric keeps track of any new investments businesses make in factories and equipment, and it excludes money spent on repairing or replacing shop-worn machinery. (Yes, this data is readily available at the Federal Reserve economic database.)
If total net investment is expanding, the theory goes, the new factories are likely to mean more jobs. And net investment watchers are especially encouraged when this metric starts to grow quickly.
5. The yield curve
You can't prove it by me, but a lot of the investor-types we tend to refer to as "Wall Street" have noticed that a good forecaster of whether our economy is about to go into recession is the difference between the yields of the 2- and 10-year U.S. treasuries.
Like I said, this gets beyond me rather quickly, but currently the 10-year T-note was yielding 2.42 percent and the 2-year 1.21 percent, making the difference between the yields of the two bonds a positive 1.21 percent — and that's a safe zone, so relax already!
Next month, we'll take a look at what the future may hold for finding and keeping the right employees.
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- 10 negative employee behaviors that undermine success
- 101 bad business buzzwords — and why you should avoid them
- US vs. Europe: Comparing different approaches to renewable energy
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- 7 key elements of an effective new employee orientation program
- 3 secrets to successful leadership
- Nurses rally in DC to address staffing issues with Congress
- Metals Thoughts: Mandate death trap
- It’s alive! Bringing an engine back from the dead
- The debate over grading and ranking public schools
- Volunteer your talents: How design can make a positive impact
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