Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Today I plan to rant just a bit about consumption because I was reading Yves Smith’s article today, and she referred to “debt-fueled consumption” – the now pejorative phrase that just rolls off the tongue. She says:
“no where does the article [referenced WSJ article in her post on the consumption share] acknowledge that the consumption level was unsustainable and debt fueled.”And this is where I get just slightly irked, because it seems to me that the phrase “debt-fueled consumption” strikes the following chord: every American household was loading up on home equity debt just to buy big ticket items like Hummers and large sofa sets with cup-holders galore from Jordan’s Furniture (a discount furniture shop in the Boston area – generically, every city has one).
I am sure that Yves Smith knows this, but the debt-fueled consumption was more likely paying surging health care bills than buying cute kitchenettes.
Myth 1: The years of debt-fueled consumption went into goods spending, jumping the consumption share of GDP to an excess of 70%.
Reality: The goods share of total consumption has been falling quite dramatically, while the service component surged. Therefore, it is more likely that the debt fueled consumption was going predominantly into the service component (paying service bills).
In Q2 2009, 25% of service spending went to health care – outpatient services (physician, drugs, dentist) or hospital and nursing home services - and 29% of service spending went to housing and utilities – rent, water, electricity, and trash. As such, over 50% of service consumption is more likely to remain stable, even rise faster, with the Boomers out there.
And as for the speculation that workers are postponing retirement due the drop-off in wealth, and consumption will be meager into the medium term, I simply don’t buy it. If anything, the aging population is going to fuel recovery – no matter when they choose to retire. Service sector consumption growth – much of it based on health care consumption - will simply become a larger share of GDP growth (cutting out autos, perhaps), and pick up some of the slack.
And here’s another thing. Myth 2: durables consumption – i.e., autos and furniture – are important contributors to the initial stages of the recovery. It helps, but service consumption is the biggie.
The chart lists the average contribution each GDP component during the initial year of recovery spanning the 1950-2007 (nine recoveries in total).
And as long as service spending rebounds, so too will the economy – even without a big pickup in autos. Inventories are almost a foregone conclusion, the residential construction sector is bound to pick up – 500-600k units is simply unsustainable for a US population that is growing at roughly 1% a year, and growth rates on such a small base can be large.
And here’s another link to jobs that has not been incorporated to many forecasts – growth in jobs means new health care insurance, means added spending on health care.
I could go on, but I won’t.