A Very Erroneous Chart in the Economic Report of the President

A Very Erroneous Chart in the Economic Report of the President

Menzie Chinn has been reading the latest Economic Report of the President and finds a very erroneous and misleading chart, which is figure 1-6 from this this document (see page 45), which states:

Equipment investment, in particular, exhibited a pronounced spike in the fourth quarter of 2017, as both the House and Senate versions of the TCJA bill, which were respectively introduced on November 2 and November 9, stipulated that full expensing for new equipment investment would be retroactive to September 2017. This created a strong financial incentive for companies to shift their equipment investment to the fourth quarter of 2017, so as to deduct new equipment investment at the old 35 percent statutory corporate income tax rate. After the initial spike in the rate of growth in fixed investment, standard neoclassical growth models would predict a return of the rate of growth to its pre-TCJA trend, but from a higher, post-TCJA level, with the capital-to-output ratio thereby asymptotically approaching its new, higher steady-state level.

Earlier on page 43 we see:

Despite expected adjustment costs and investment lags in the transition to a higher-target capital stock, the first three quarters after the TCJA’s passage saw a notable acceleration in investment. Figure 1-6 reports growth in real private nonresidential fixed investment from the time of the TCJA’s passage until the third quarter of 2018, both for nonresidential investment overall and for the major subcomponents of structures, equipment, and intellectual property products, expressed as compound annual growth rates

Menzie looks at the equipment investment calculation:

My calculations indicate that (stochastic) trend annual growth rate over the pre-TCJA period indicated by the ERP is 7.8%, not -2.2% as indicated in ERP Figure 1-6. The TCJA period growth rate is 6.4%, rather than the 6.6% reported. Using the vintage the CEA probably used (December 2018 release) does not change these fundamental patterns.

I decided to look at FRED data on real private nonresidential fixed investment and suspect Hassett’s 1.5% growth rate for the pre-TCJA period really should read 5.1%. I suspect careful readers can find all sort of errors in this document, which begs the question how could the Council of Economic Advisers get the basic data on an important issue so very wrong. Or did Hassett outsource this chapter to Lawrence Kudlow?

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