Thursday, October 29, 2009

Government purchases a 3.5% growth rate, but it may be a "clunker"

Today the BEA announced the third quarter growth of GDP of 3.5% preliminary.
The details are interesting. In seasonally adjusted chained 2005 dollars (Table 3 of the tables accompanying the official release) the GDP rose from Quarter 2 to Quarter 3 of $112.5B or 0.87% of the Q2 base GDP of $12.9T. That rate over four quarters is the 3.5% reported increase.

So what rose the most between the 2nd and 3rd quarter? I calculated those increases and the top detailed items are "motor vehicles and parts" of 11.82% and "recreational goods and vehicles" of 3.29% and nothing else comes close.

While auto sales are up over 11 percent, overall consumption is up LESS THAN 1 percent and auto sales are still less than reported in 2008. Investment is up 2.8% which is positive compared to the previous quarters, but the investment of the 3rd quarter in 2008 was over $2T and in the 3rd quarter of 2009 is less than $1.5T. That is a 25% drop in one year.

So the good news of a 3.5% growth is driven primarily by auto sales in the first part of the quarter. Since in this quarter the Cash for Clunker program was touted as so successful, one might quickly think that type of stimulus worked. Here is what you need to know. While the Clunker program did spur sales and they apparently show up in the national income accounts, reports that each auto sold cost tax payers $24,000 per vehicle sold. The government offers a direct payment of $4,500 to buy, but the actual effect is $24,000 per car that was sold and influenced by the program.

Understand this, if I was going to buy a car anyway, then knowing I was getting $4,500 would be a great windfall, but would not change my behavior. So the cost of $4,500 paid to me was "wasted." So the true cost is for those buyers that were encouraged to buy the new car (and who would not have done so without the program) is basically all of the costs expended divided by the number of cars sold only because the program was offered. In short, the government can not take credit for all sales, but only the increase. And not all of the increase either, if all the program did was to encourage future sales to occur now. My read of the Edmund' evidence is that in the 4th quarter auto sales will not lead the way in GDP growth and may negatively contribute. so the economy will have to turn around strongly in other sectors not to see a low or negative growth next quarter.

In short, the government did indeed purchase a higher GDP. But can they keep it?

UPDATE 10/31/09

White house hits back (and links CEA report and -- WH says see for yourself.)

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