Archive for the ‘Recession’ category

Not With a Bang But With a Whimper

July 26, 2016

The U.S. economy is currently in its 86 month of an economic expansion that began in the summer of 2009 according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the organization that officially dates U.S. business cycles. If the expansion lasts another seven months (as it will), it will be the third longest economic expansion in our nation’s history, trailing only the 120 month expansion from 1991 to 2001 and the 106 month expansion from  1961 to 1969.

The probability of recession in the next six months is low but the business cycle hasn’t been repealed, another recession will occur and almost certainly sometime before the end of 2019.  It’s just that none of the excesses – wage and price growth, high energy prices, inflationary pressures, inflated asset values, etc.- that have preceded past recession are much apparent in today’s economy and there aren’t signs that any are imminent.  What will make the next recession unique in the post WWII era is that it may very well occur before the nation has fully recovered from the previous recession, despite how long the current recovery has lasted.  “Fully recovered” here means that the actual output of the nation’s economy (GDP) reaches its potential output (for a brief explanation of actual and potential output of the economy see this Congressional Budget Office publication). This is somewhat akin to feeling the effects of a hangover in the morning despite not having enjoyed the celebration the night before.  Unlike the last recession, or most recessions, the next one may not begin with a bang but rather with a whimper.

No expansion can last forever; the U.S. and the NH economies are showing signs of slowing so it is difficult for me to believe that the nation can avoid slipping into recession sometime during the first term of our next president.  If that President is named Clinton it will most likely mean a one-term presidency as three consecutive terms for an incumbent party (relatively rare in itself) along with a recession in the third term (unless is happens very early in her term allowing sufficient time for growth prior to 2020) would almost certainly result in the nation looking for a change in the party controlling the White House.  If the President is named Trump he will no doubt blame the recession on the past administration and that may help give him a pass in 2020, but a recession will challenge his claim as someone who knows how to create jobs, while his penchant for populist and nationalistic themes aren’t generally viewed as monetary and fiscal policies effective in combating a recession.  His administration’s and his personal  response to the recession might determine his fate (does anyone else remember the images of the first, single-term, President Bush zooming around in his cigarette boat off the coast of Maine while the U.S. was in the middle of the 1990-91 recession?).

The past two months have been marked by one very bad and one very good month for job growth in the nation and in NH.  I  advocate looking at three months of job growth numbers in discerning employment growth trends and a prudent man would wait for the release of the nation’s July job growth numbers on August 5th before making any proclamations about the direction of the U.S. or NH economy.  But a prudent man doesn’t write this blog and I am comfortable knowing that when you right too early it often seems like you are wrong so here are a few of the more accessible  indicators that I believe suggest slower economic growth moving forward.  There are others but jobs and revenues are what interest policymakers most so they are highlighted here.

  • The rate of private sector job growth has slowed.
  • The number of industries that are adding jobs versus the number shedding jobs (the employment diffusion index) has declined.
  • Help wanted advertising is declining.
  • Nationally, state corporate income tax collections appear to have peaked.

Slowing Private Employment Growth

Recognizing that there is always some level of unemployment in the economy, the nation and NH are at or very near “full employment,” making  job gains harder to obtain.  Full employment in the latter stages of recovery is the most obvious rationale for slower job growth going forward.  As the chart below shows, growth in private sector employment nationally is still solid but has been trending downward for some time while growth in NH accelerated in 2015 but appears to have peaked in early 2016.

private sector job growth

The Breadth of Job Gains Narrows

I use a 13 industry private employment diffusion index to assess the breadth of job growth across the private sector economy.  When more industries are adding jobs than are shedding jobs, the index is below .50 and the greater the number of industries adding jobs compared to those shedding jobs the higher is the index number.  The chart below shows that both the national and NH diffusion index have dropped, with NH’s decline of particular concern as it now stands below .50 on a three month moving average basis. NH’s employment numbers are often substantially revised so this index value may not be as bad as it appears here but the U.S. number still points to a slowdown.

diffusion index

Historically, significant declines in NH’s employment diffusion index have signaled turning points in the state’s labor market. The relationship between NH’s diffusion index value and the rate of year-over-year private sector job growth four months later is strong (a correlation of .82).  A simple linear regression of the NH diffusion index on private sector employment growth suggests the last two quarters of 2016 will see private employment growth in NH of about 0.6% on an annualized basis compared to the current rate of growth of about 2.0%.  Clearly not in danger of recession but definitely a slowdown.

diffusion index and emp growth

Fewer Help Wanted Ads

Nationally and in NH the number of help wanted ads has declined in recent months.  In NH the relationship between the three month moving average of help wanted ads and job growth in the quarter that follows is strong (R= .80).

NH US Help Wanted

Growth in State Corporate Income Tax Collections Has Peaked

Nationally, the rate of growth in state corporate income taxes is declining (chart below).

corporate tax revenues

The chart shows that compared to all states combined, the growth in NH’s business tax revenues is increasing as the growth rate nationally declines.  This despite the fact that NH’s private sector employment growth has been at about the U.S. average over the past year.  What is different in NH is the inclusion of NH’s Business Enterprise Tax revenue along with NH’s tax on corporate profits in the chart above.  Both private employment and wage growth have accelerated in NH over the past year. Wages and salaries paid by a business are the largest portion of the Business Enterprise Tax base so even as business profits grow more slowly, business tax revenues can be buoyed by substantial increases in overall wages and salaries.  While not a measure of the payroll of NH businesses, wage and salary income increased in NH by 8.6 percent between QI 2015 and QI 2016 compared to 5.3 percent nationally.  That increase has helped boost Business Enterprise Tax revenue and overall business tax revenue in NH in a way that it cannot in other states (most other states would see the change in individual income tax revenue).  The trend is depicted in the chart below that shows the growth rate of the annualized business profits portion of NH’s business tax revenue has slipped while the growth rate of the portion more dependent on wages and salaries has seen accelerated growth.  A slowing growth rate in private employment in NH implies slower growth in wages and salaries and business tax revenues in the state growing more similarly to the pattern among states nationally.  This will occur just as a budget surplus and strong overall revenue growth have increased pressures for additional state spending that had been muted by several years of relatively weak business tax and overall revenue growth.

NH business tax revenue growth

It is impossible to predict monthly payroll employment growth for a small state like NH (or any state for that matter) but I predict employment growth of about 120,000 jobs nationally in July but anything between 100,000 and 150,000 would be in line with the indicators highlighted in this post and consistent with a gradual slowing of economic growth nationally and in NH. Not soon but at some point that slowing will become a recession and that will be the reward for winning the White House and for new and incumbent occupants of statehouses across the nation.

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Whoever Wins, I’m Rooting for Propserity

November 6, 2012

The winners of today’s state and national elections face some daunting budgeting tasks.  Compounding those difficulties is the fact that winners will likely begin their efforts having disappointed close to 50 percent of the people who care enough about their country and state to exercise their right of franchise.  Its hard to set a course when half the oarsmen and women are are using them to poke you in the eye rather than right the ship of state.  This is not a circumstance unique to this election, but what does seem different is how many people think they still win even when their candidate loses, if the country or the state fail to prosper under the administration of the victor.    Some may have, but I never have  been better off when the economy is weak,  so whether or not my candidates win today, I’m rooting for prosperity.

In NH, today’s winner of the race for governor will confront pent-up demand for limited state resources that show no near-term signs of significant increase.   The state’s largest source of general fund revenue, the combined business profits and business enterprise taxes, has shown limited growth recently.  In the past, this source of revenue has demonstrated an ability to rise quickly and dramatically as the state’s and nation’s economies rebound, but a severe recession and changes to the state’s business loss carry forward provisions will dampen some of these effects that typically occur early in a recovery.  The chart below shows the seasonally adjusted,  annualized, business tax revenue over the past decade, along with our forecast for the next two years.  This forecast uses a statistical model (ARIMA) that makes no assumptions about changes in the strength of the economy and it indicates that, without significant changes,  business tax revenues can be expected to increases by about 5.3 percent over the next two years.  We will update the forecast as new data becomes available as well as use modeling that incorporates key assumptions about changes in state and national economic variables, but as it stands now, it appears that  little of the pent-up demand for state spending  is likely to be satisfied under the current path.

The Recession’s Impact on The Entrepreneurial Economy

November 5, 2012

The cost of the recent recession in terms of jobs lost was great,  but the  longer-term cost could be far greater because of the impact the recession had on NH’s entrepreneurial economy.   While small businesses are cited as being responsible for the majority of new job creation, the fact always left out of that truism is that most of the job creation by small businesses come from new businesses, and more specifically, a small number of new businesses that become “gazelles,” new businesses with the potential to grow much larger.  Most small business will always be small.  They start, they fail, and with a lot of churning they are the businesses with whom we most interact on a daily basis. New Hampshire and New England increasingly have relied on our economy’s ability to generate new and innovative businesses to maintain a dynamic economy, a decline in entrepreneurial activity would have significant implications for our ability to continue to do so.

Looking at data on employment by age of businesses in NH from the past decade, it is clear that while NH may have suffered less than most states during the recent recession, it is not so clear that our entrepreneurial economy did as well.  The chart below shows that the recession had an especially large impact on NH’s entrepreneurs, as the the number of people employed at firms operating for three years or less declined by 34% between its peak in 2006, and 2011.

As a percentage of private employment, workers at firms three years old or has fallen from over nine percent of private employment to just over six percent.  This data does not mean that 16,000 workers in firms three years old or younger actually lost their jobs.  Remember, this is time series data so the firms in 2006 that were three years old or younger are not the same firms in the three year old and under category in 2011.  Certainly there were substantial job losses among young firms during the recession (as well as some gains) but the data more likely suggests that the next wave of new businesses (some of whom could be expected to become “gazelles”) simply did not start or  were not able to survive and grow.   For how long those effects lasts should be a question for anyone wondering what to do about the slow pace of job creation in the state.  It would be nice to have a control group of data from Massachusetts to examine for comparison purposes but they do not participate in the program from which these data are drawn.  Recessions always take a toll on smaller and newer businesses because those businesses are often in more precarious financial positions.  The data for NH do not go back earlier than 2003 so it is difficult to say whether this recession was different in its impacts on entrepreneurial activity in NH but we really should be concerned about whether the impact of the recession on entrepreneurial activity will have longer-term impacts on the NH economy.

What’s Behind NH’s Recent Net Out-Migration?

November 1, 2012

I’ve written often about how important the ability to attract skilled, well-educated individuals is to NH’s past and future economic success.  Appropriately, there is much concern over NH’s recent population losses resulting  from movements of residents into and out-of the state and what it says about NH’s relative attractiveness.  Not surprisingly, that concern  results in many simplistic, inaccurate, and analytical flawed explanations for the patterns of migration to and from NH.  I don’t have a book, video, seminar, or anything else to sell that depends of any particular explanation for NH’s migration patterns so I will let the data , as it becomes clearer, shape and evolve my theories on the phenomenon.

Here is the basic scenario:  NH has traditionally been a magnet for residents moving from another state (most prominently from  another Northeastern state – especially MA). During the past decade NH has attracted less net in-migration from other states, especially during the second half of the decade, culminating in net out-migration at the end of the decade.  The resulting concern by many (including me) is that NH may be losing its fundamental attractiveness relative to other states.  Because NH has relied on in-migration to fuel growth in “human capital” and the economy, this would imply very bad things about the future of our state.  I worry a lot about NH’s attractiveness  but my answer to the question of whether the state has lost its attractiveness is: “no…….not yet“.   Lets look at migration to and from the state during the recession (chart below). During the recession the patterns of the past several decades were largely the same – albeit with different magnitudes.  NH gained and lost a  lot of residents from other Northeastern states, and smaller numbers from other states in the South and West.

The difference in recent years has been that the positive net flows to  NH have been smaller for states that traditionally send NH a lot of residents (the Northeast), while the states with whom NH traditionally has net negative outflows have been larger (largely states in the south and west).   But is this a sign that NH is now less attractive?  I don’t think so (yet) and here is why. Since the housing and financial crisis and subsequent recession, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that state-to-state movement in the U.S. (on a % basis) has been about as low as it ever has been.  One reason for that,  many economists believe, is the fact that there were fewer places to move to that had stronger economic growth that often drives migration.  But another important factor has been the phenomenon of “housing lock.”

Because of the housing market bust and subsequent housing equity, credit and financial issues, both the selling and buying of homes were disrupted or impossible for large numbers of homeowners in NH and across the country.  That has especially profound impacts on net migration to NH.  I can’t explain in detail here, but migration patterns in NH indicate that the state has been especially attractive to and a magnate  for  30-44 yr. old, two wage-earner married couple families with children.  To move to NH they typically have to sell a house in their  native state and buy one in NH.  Each of those was a lot more difficult at the end of the last decade.  I believe this  reduced our core demographic of  potential  in-migrants.  At the same time, the housing market crash had less of an effect on the ability of the young, and non-homeowners to move from state-to-state.  This is the demographic group that traditionally has shown net out-migration from NH.  So the groups most likely to choose NH were most constrained from doing so during the last half of the 2000s, while the groups most likely to leave NH were not constrained from doing so by “housing lock” or other housing market issues.  The result – much lower rates of net in-migration to the state.  This explanation doesn’t account for all of the recent decline in net migration to NH, but it surely has played a significant role in the trend.

Spotting Bubbles After They Burst

October 25, 2012

I’ve lived through two housing bubbles since I was old enough to know and care about them.  During the first one I was writing quite unpopular reports for developers and lenders (I’m still not very popular with realtors) that  indicated, to me at least, that the “effective demand” for housing in many areas just would not support a viable project (based on the fundamental underlying determinants of the demand for housing – population, employment, and income growth as well as new household formations).  I did not understand then nor do I do now, how an industry (home building) can survive when so many decisions it makes are made with a view toward the immediate past (what sold last week or month and at what price).  Of course everybody, including me, recognizes a bubble after it has burst.  But there really is no substitute for understanding the fundamental underlying demand for housing in a region or community when making a decision about building or buying housing.  Few have the patience or knowledge to assess the “effective demand” (the willingness AND ability to purchase) for housing versus the desire to purchase based on the current sentiment about the housing market.  Potential home buyers are not likely to get that understanding from a real estate industry that can make money from a purchase regardless of whether the purchase increases in value or not.   It is easy to see the “effective demand” for housing and the real conditions of the market after the fact, as with the many charts I see that show how  the relationship between home prices and household incomes in a region was widening prior to the last housing market crash.  Its a great way to make a call after the game is over.  Household income data is reported with a lag of more than a year for smaller areas, is subject to a significant margin of error, and may likely be revised sometime  down the road.

There really is no substitute for understanding the fundamentals but a quick and easy way to get a sense of where the home buying market is, is to look at the ratio of the monthly cost of purchasing a home (at the average selling price) versus the monthly cost of an average rental.  Both selling and rental price data is readily available in NH from, among other sources, the NH Housing Finance Authority which regularly does rental price surveys.  The chart below shows the ratio for NH going back to 1990.  The ratios can be calculated for sub-areas of the state and for communities as well.  The ratio is not a substitute for a thorough analysis of “effective” or fundamental underlying demand that all home builders should undertake, but for home buyers, it clearly shows that when the ratio gets above 130% or 140% (which can be determined with a data lag of only a few months at most) a bubble is likely forming.

The Changing Banking Market

October 23, 2012

Public antipathy toward large financial institutions  may have been building throughout much of the past decade but it surely peaked during and immediately following the recent recession and the financial crisis that helped precipitate it.  One result appears to be a changing market structure for deposits and loans at financial institutions in NH and across the country.  The recession in our state was less severe than was the recession of the early 1990’s, and less severe than was the recent recession  in  many states because of the the overall health and strength of our state’s banking institutions.  Nevertheless, one fallout from the financial crisis appears to be a growing market share for credit unions in the state.  As the chart below shows, since the recent recession, deposits at credit unions have grown much faster than deposits at NH banks overall.  Deposits at NH community banks have grown faster than deposits at all NH banks, suggesting that deposit gains by credit unions have come largely at the expense of large banks in the state, as deposit growth for all NH banks is much lower than the growth among just community banks.  Prior to the recession and financial crisis, deposits at NH community banks were growing faster than were deposits at credit unions.

It would be unfortunate if community banking institutions that have had strong commitments and links to their local communities  and regional economies are tarred by the actions of institutions from afar. Beyond that, a fundamental change in the market shares for financial services could  have significant impacts on the regulation of financial services, on government revenues , and on market shares as the tax exempt status of credit unions contributes to their ability to compete and capture market share.  The increased concentration of deposits in the banking industry that occurred during much of the 1980’s and 1990’s may now  be occurring among credit unions.  As the services credit unions offer and their branching look more and more like those of banks, their ownership and regulatory structure may be the only thing that distinguishes them from banks.

The Feminization of NH’s Workforce

October 22, 2012

Nothing gets you thinking about gender equity issues more than being the father of three daughters, except maybe being the father of four or more daughters.  In my upcoming October edition of  “Trends Lines” I am looking at trends in NH’s labor force.  One of the more significant trends is the increasing percentage of women employed at businesses in NH.  Despite the fact that men participate in NH’s (and the nation’s) labor force at higher rates (about 9% higher in NH) than do women, women now are a slight majority of employees at businesses in NH.  Women comprised 51% of employees covered by unemployment insurance during the third quarter of 2011 – the most recent data available.   Only in Hillsborough and Sullivan Counties are men a majority (and by less than 1%) of employees at NH businesses.

Among workers with the highest level of educational attainment, those with a bachelor’s degree or higher, women comprise 52% of those employed by NH businesses.   Moreover, the percentage of NH workers with the highest levels of educational attainment who are women is likely to increase because the percentage of new hires (not including recalls of  layoffs), with at least a bachelors degree, who are women, is now even higher (53% – see chart below).  These differences don’t seem large, but over time  they have tremendous implications for the economy and for society.

I don’t know if this data says more about the changing nature of the workplace or the changing nature of the male workforce, but as the father of three daughters, my anecdotal experience leads me to believe it is more about the latter.


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