Initial weekly jobless claims for unemployment benefits, the best predictor of employment trends, continues downward, but with some upward blips of late that are probably due to still severe weather in the northeast (snow) and south (tornadoes). And the revised fourth quarter GDP growth estimate was up slightly, with signs that 2017 could be better.
Wrightson-ICAP says, “The number of unemployment insurance beneficiaries has fallen sharply in recent weeks, from an average of 2.064 million in January and February to 1.990 million in the week of March 11. The combination of that slide and the dramatic improvement in the job-availability numbers in the Conference Board’s record consumer confidence report earlier this week suggests that the national unemployment rate might slip a notch from February’s 4.7 percent level.”
So we could finally be approaching full employment, last seen in early 2000 before the Great Recession bust, even though there are still some 7 million adult workers either working part time, or looking for work? Q4 GDP growth rose to 2.1 percent, but down from a 3.5 percent increase in Q3.
“The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter reflected positive contributions from PCE, private inventory investment, residential fixed investment, nonresidential fixed investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by negative contributions from exports and federal government spending. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased,” said the BEA report.
This is while corporate profits surged 22.3 percent year-over-year in Q4, another sign that growth should pick up this year. Why? Well, corporations will hopefully want to expand production, which means more jobs and capex investments. But that hasn’t happened yet, as business investment isn’t increasing at present, and hasn’t for more than 1 year.
Capital expenditure among the 1,000 largest companies took a step back last year, declining $74 million from 2015, on average. The decline built on the $11 million average decline in 2015 after four years of spending growth ending in 2014. Much of it is due to the decline in oil and gas production, as there is already a glut of fossil fuel supplies which has kept oil prices at the $50/barrel level or lower for several years now.
What does all this mean for 2017 growth? At risk of sounding too repetitive, I maintain Congress and the Trump administration must be on the same page if they want to get anything done. Trying to push the repeal of Obamacare up front didn’t work. And tax reform may have the same problem if the tax breaks only go to the wealthiest, as would have happened with the repeal of Obamacare.
Nor will cutting back on environmental regulations, gas mileage requirements, scientific research and development spur growth, since most job growth and innovation these days is in the green industries. We know trickle-down economics has never worked. What is needed is more direct job creation with such as an infrastructure bill.
But is that possible with all the senseless bickering of Republicans because their cherished dream of repealing Obamacare didn’t happen?
Harlan Green © 2017
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