We're Back to Growth... For Now

Just one bit of meaningful economic data so far this week: The American service sector grew in September for the first time in a year. The Institute for Supply Management’s nonmanufacturing index scored 50.9 last month, just 9/10ths of a point above the growth/contraction tipping point. That certainly isn’t a booming service sector, but having contracted for the last 11 months… we’ll take it.

“The Chicago Fed’s national activity index,” notes our macro adviser and fellow data dork Rob Parenteau, “continues to point to a second-half 2009 real GDP recovery. With the September release, investors focused on the index — a composite of more than 80 monthly indicators that provides a reasonably good proxy for real GDP momentum — slipping to -0.9 from -0.46 the month before. We have never seen this index climb consistently straight up after a recession month after month, and this decline is well within the range of monthly variation we tend to observe in this series.

Chicago Fed's GDP Predictions

“To be sure, growth above the long-term real GDP trend is not signaled until this index crosses the zero threshold. Typically, it takes until year two of a recovery to get there. Right now, all we are shooting for is growth, rather than recession. As displayed below, year-over-year growth at a 1.5-2% real GDP pace is within reach by year-end, given the sharp V-shaped recovery in the Chicago Fed index to date. We believe this will be sufficient to bring actual inventory accumulation into view in Q1, which can carry the economy in to midyear 2010 or so, at which point the unwinding of the fiscal stimulus becomes more of an issue.

“We continue to believe that is much more of a second-half 2010 concern, when the fiscal tide starts to go out, revealing a U.S. private sector that will still be leery of adding to its existing debt and will still be very keen on keeping spending growth below income growth.”