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 This Economy Is Proving Too Hard for Economists

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PostSubject: This Economy Is Proving Too Hard for Economists   This Economy Is Proving Too Hard for Economists Icon_minitimeSat Oct 08, 2022 7:32 pm

The data isn’t fitting Wall Street’s longstanding models very well, but that’s no reason to dismiss the data as outliers.

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The latest buzzword among many economists and investors is “ noise.” It’s being used to refer to any piece of economic data that doesn’t fit the prevailing narrative, which is happening a lot these days. Don’t get me wrong — this economy is proving hard to understand. It is very strong in some respects and very weak in others. The official government data shows gross domestic product just shrank for two consecutive quarters, meeting the technical definition of a recession, but it doesn’t feel like a true recession.

No sooner had the Labor Department said earlier this month that economy added 528,000 jobs in July, more than double the forecast and exceeding every one of the more than 70 estimates in a Bloomberg survey, than economists dismissed the results as “noise.” They trotted out the word again when the government said on Aug. 10 that the consumer price index was unchanged in July from the month before, an outcome all but four of 63 economists predicted. They expected an increase. And just this week we heard a lot of economists respond with “noise” when the Commerce Department said this week that retail sales for July among a control group that is used to calculate GDP rose more than forecast.

This is all very confusing to many, and I get it. But just because the data doesn’t fit Wall Street’s longstanding models that worked in the pre-pandemic era doesn’t mean that it’s ”noise.” It probably means the models are in dire need of updating.

Take the inflation data. The no change in the monthly CPI was surprising, but probably not an outlier. The Bureau of Labor Statistics does a pretty good job of gathering and analyzing data. If it is showing that inflation was unchanged, it does really mean inflation slowed. It also means we can still debate about why inflation slowed. My pet theory is that faster inflation was the result of the lagged effects of fiscal stimulus in response to the shutdowns in the early days of the pandemic, and now that the stimulus is moving farther away in the rear-view mirror, price gains will slow. The data is what it is, but it can still be subject to interpretation.

The strong retail sales number might also be dismissed as “noise.” Retail sales excluding auto purchases rose 0.4% in July, versus a forecasted contraction of 0.1% in a Bloomberg survey. Sales among the control group rose 0.8%, well above the pre-pandemic monthly average of 0.3%. The latest results don’t exactly fit the narrative that the economy is in a recession.

So, the options are to either dismiss data that doesn’t meet the numbers spit out by the models or apply some brainpower to figure out why the models seem to be getting critical parts of the economy so wrong lately. Maybe consumers aren’t as tapped out by inflation as we are led to believe. Maybe the massive amount of money still sitting in household savings accounts thanks to the unprecedented fiscal stimulus when combined with an unemployment rate that, at 3.5%, represents a 53-year low, means consumers are mostly undeterred by rising prices.
Cash Flush and Employed

Americans are sitting on a record amount of cash, and more people have jobs than before the pandemic.

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