An Increasingly Divergent US Economy

An Increasingly Divergent US Economy

Lots of people have been huffing and puffing about whether or not the US economy will go into a recession in the near future, with Menzie Chinn and Jim Hamilton at Econbrowser saying it is now about 50-50 whether or not the US economy will go into recession by the end of 2020.   I do not have a horse in that race, but I am struck that a new odd phenomenon has recently appeared in the US economy, a split between sectors regarding their performance that recently seems to be increasing.

The sectors are manufacturing, which has been declining now for several months and is the harbinger of recession. Meanwhile single family permits are up, and YOY permits overall are up by 8 percent that may well hold off any recession if it continues to accelerate.  It is unclear which will win out.

So the general story of manufacturing looking to decline while housing construction is likely to rise still holds for the fairly near future.

The manufacturing decline has been widely tied to the trade wars, which would appear to be at least partly responsible.  It is also the sector that through trade may be experiencing the pressures of the slowing of global growth.

However, ironically the recent increase in housing starts may be a result of the fears of recession that have been mounting recently, along with the Repo Ruckus that happened last month.  The upshot of these has been a change in Fed policy towards stimulus, with target interest rates being gradually moved down while the Fed has also stopped reducing balances and has been actively intervening in the repo markets to keep them stabilized.  In any case, housing is the most interest-rate sensitive sector of the economy, so it may be that this shift in monetary policy has triggered the uptick in housing starts that is now moving to offset the decline clearly apparent in manufacturing.This is getting interesting, and I am not going to forecast how it will come out.

Barkley Rosser