What's ahead for the economy -- a sampling of views
Everybody, it seems, has a comment on the economy these days. This includes hundreds of brokerages, banks, and economic research firms that publish newsletters on economic trends. As a service to readers, and without endorsing any particular views, the Monitor presents excerpts from some of these newsletters.mSkip to next paragraph
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The US economy struggled through most of 1982 to effect a transition from recession to recovery. The process now appears to be nearly complete, and the risks of a new downturn have faded. But doubt about the direction of the economy has been replaced by uncertainty about the strength and durability of the recovery in 1983. A number of variables could hold GNP growth to a low of approximately 1.3 percent or allow the economy to expand by about 2.5 percent. The lower level of growth would mean another year of near-stagnation, with rising unemployment. The higher level would reflect a stronger economy gaining momentum as the year progresses. Still, that performance would constitute a real recovery by historical standards.
The initial stimulus for recovery must come from increased consumer spending - particularly on autos and other durables - and on home purchases. Such spending will allow businesses to finish drawing down excess inventories and begin restocking, so that inventory rebuilding will also contribute to the recovery. But the remaining sectors of the economy will provide no help in the early stages of the expansion.
- Bank of America, San Francisco
The recent drop in [Federal Reserve] lending rates sparked a drop in the mortgage market, but not enough to cause lines to form outside real estate offices. Although rates are now significantly lower than they were a year ago, some analysts think demand may not improve by much because of the potential for a renewed surge in interest rates and the weak monetary position of lending institutions.
Although analysts agree a 13 percent mortgage rate might ring bells that would significantly reverse the markets, other looming factors make moves in housing demand hard to fix on interest and mortgage rates alone. Flexible mortgage plans are now in vogue to accommodate buyers wary of vacillating interest rates. Balloon mortgages and builder financing are also attractive alternatives to the fixed-mortgage plans of yesteryear. In addition, costs of operation figure into the affordability of a house, with costs of heating, maintenance, and property taxes tallied at figures approaching monthly mortgage payments.
- Eastern Capital Corporation, Boston
Productivity rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.2 percent during the July-September period, compared with the previous quarter. Output per hour traditionally rises toward the end of recessions or during the early stages of recovery - as businessmen speed up production lines before they start rehiring employees - but last quarter's gain was, with only one exception, the largest in any recession since 1950.
This improvement is likely to have a favorable impact on many related economic indicators. It has already contributed to the decline in the rate of inflation in general and the underlying or ''core'' rate of inflation (the annual rise in labor and capital costs) in particular. As a result, the buying power of those currently working has improved and the erosion of purchasing power of those living on fixed incomes or savings has slowed.
- Manufacturers Hanover Trust, New York
Consumers paid off more short-term debt in October than they incurred. As a result, the amount of consumer installment credit outstanding dropped after rising each month since December 1981. Banks, auto dealers, and credit card companies began to decrease credit extensions when the recession started as consumers attempted to improve household-debt positions. Consumers took on more debt in the spring of 1982, but they cut credit purchases during the summer as prospects for immediate recovery dimmed. Similarly, the desire to reduce debt increased consumer motivation to pay off installment credit as the recession continued.
- Barnett Banks, Jacksonville, Fla.
In line with relaxed economic conditions, financial market patterns have begun to shift into a more balanced mode. Along with a modest reduction of credit demands and some liquidity improvement in major economic sectors, a healthier balance between traditional net users and suppliers of credit market funds seems to be coming into existence. If this continues, it might prove to be a key ingredient in sustaining a more balanced noninflationary pace of economic activity.
In addition to financial institutions, households, foreigners, and state and local governments remained important suppliers of net funds to the credit markets in the third quarter. Households advanced $92.5 billion to the markets, up only slightly from the previous quarter and 5.7 percent over a year ago. State and local governments contributed a bit less during the quarter - $40.4 billion - but this was double their contribution in the 1981 quarter.
- Moody's Investors Service, New York