Morton Marcus: Carry your umbrella for data deluge

The news poured down on us last week and on Wednesday, August 10th. You’ll need some protection from the amount of speculation coming forth on those days.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis, or BEA, will release its first estimate of Gross Domestic Product for the second quarter of this year on the 28th. There will be revised estimates for the next two months, with each one treated as something truly new.

Not only did the media carry the story, but they wallowed in speculation about the recession that the figure was worse than the 1% decline recorded in the first quarter. “Two negative quarters doth a recession make,” they intoned. If the number is a weak positive, the story would have been about our narrow escape from recession or the ongoing robust nature of the American economy.

On August 10, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release its Consumer Price Index (CPI) numbers for July 2022. For this one, get out that big golf umbrella; the media downpour will be a gully-washer.

Not all sectors of the economy or sections of the country move together in a recession. Many firms are unaware of a recession until it’s over. Others slide down the economic slope before any broad national data indicate a problem. They are, in a different sense, “The First Responders.”

Inflation is different. It moves from sector to sector as firms and households go about their routine activities. It may come upon us slowly with a 15% increase in consumer prices over 108 months, from Jan ’12 to Dec ’20. Or prices may bolt ahead by 13% in just 18 months from Jan ’21 to June ’22.

Inflation affects each firm and household according to what it buys and its ability to raise the prices of what it offers in the economy. Inflation and recession are not inevitably linked.

If we are in a recession now, it was caused by the best of motives.

The Bush administration sought to avoid a recession by flushing the financial sector with money when that sector caused a housing-finance bubble that deflated in late ’07.

We recovered slowly and progressed until the Covid epidemic struck worldwide in early 2020. Then the Trump administration, followed by the Biden administration, released floods of cash onto households and businesses.

The cumulative effect of all this stimulus was massive amounts of idle funds in many households, firms and banks. This led to serious asset inflation; rising prices for housing, stocks, cryptocurrency and various pixel arrangements.

Once the COVID-19 cloud was assumed dispersed, consumer spending burst forth, raising prices and ultimately raising interest rates to stifle inflation. Which likely brought us back to the edge of a recession.

Keep an eye on the sky for that data deluge.

Morton Marcus is an economist. Follow him and John Guy on Who Gets What? wherever podcasts are available or at mortonjohn.libsyn.com. Send comments to [email protected]