December 5, 2023

Taylor Daily Press

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The cork that floats the US economy is slowly sinking

The cork that floats the US economy is slowly sinking

A soft landing, which is a combination of economic growth that cools sufficiently without recession, while inflation gradually declines to the desired level, is rare.

In recent decades, we have often seen hard landings, often referred to as failed attempts at soft landings, and economists disagree on whether a soft landing is even a soft landing!

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the likelihood of experiencing this extremely rare event has increased recently. In its flagship publication, the World Economic Outlook, the fund says its estimates of economic growth and inflation are largely consistent with a soft landing, particularly in the United States.

Lots of savings

The reason for that decision was the significant slowdown of the US economy. It’s growing at about 2 percent, the jobs engine is running smoothly, inflation is slowing and relatively low, and all this against a backdrop of significantly increased capital market interest rates, a central bank interest rate cycle we’ve rarely seen before. , the war in Ukraine and tensions with China.

It is mainly consumption by American households that has ensured this impressive performance. Despite 10% inflation, they continued to spend. Granted, wage increases were substantial due to a very strong labor market, but those wage increases were offset by inflation.

The main reason American consumer spending kept the economy afloat was because they had a reasonable amount of savings. Lockdowns and pandemics have left a lot of money in bank accounts.

Strong recovery

On top of that there was extensive support from the government. As the pandemic ends and normal life resumes, American consumers flock to (online) shopping streets and start spending money.

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The only problem with the above reasoning is that in Europe there was forced austerity and government support. However, the US economy has fared significantly better than European economies since the end of the pandemic.

Why the recovery in the U.S. has been so strong is a question that some economists at the regional central bank in New York have been pondering recently. American households have continued to spend more than they earn since the end of the pandemic. They financed the difference with those accumulated savings.

Save less

But when that money ran out, consumption continued to rise. In an analysis, New York Fed economists report that American households are saving less than before the pandemic. European households, on the other hand, are still putting some money aside and haven’t fully spent the savings buffers built up during the pandemic.

Not that the American consumer spent money so eagerly that the future looked bright. Of course not, US consumer confidence is historically low. The abundant flow of money is often associated with the noted high inflation. We know that it always hits the poor and the middle class the hardest.

We also know that this group is larger in the US than in Europe. Many Americans were forced to spend that money. Additionally, the New York Fed points to a possible psychological effect. Americans received their aid in the form of checks mailed to them.

Spend everything

For many, it seemed like they got extra money out of nowhere. Money falling from the sky is easy to spend because you think you don’t have to do anything for it. Psychologically speaking, it is easier to spend that money than the money left over due to the closure of shops due to the lockdown.

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Either way, the difference in how people on opposite sides of the Atlantic have dealt with mandatory cuts and aid explains the better performance of the U.S. economy.

Economists at the New York Federal Reserve attempted to measure this effect and concluded that if American consumers had saved less than before, rather than spent more of their accumulated buffers, household consumption would have been 3 percentage points lower.

The end in sight

Given the weight of consumption in US gross domestic product (GDP), this equates to about 2 percentage points of additional economic growth in the US. For example, let it be the growth percentage for the first half of this year!

In comparison, consumption in Europe grew relatively modestly, holding back economic expansion. Looking ahead, when confidence returns — and it will one day — Europe could outperform the U.S., at least temporarily, because consumers have more money to spend.

Now that the extra cash has run out, one might even say that the cork that has driven the US economy so far will collapse. I am curious about the performance of the US economy in 2024.

Edin Mujagic is Chief Economist at OHV Vermogensbeheer and specializes in central bank policies (effects). He has several books to his name, including “Money Murder: How Central Banks Are Destroying Our Money” and “Charming and Fascinating: A Monetary History of the Netherlands from 1814/1816.” He studied monetary economics at the University of Tilburg. He writes personally. The information contained in this column does not constitute professional investment advice or a recommendation to make specific investments.