The current real GDP growth is just under 2% annually. At this point last year it was in the 3.5-4% range. The trend is declining. The unemployment rate is just above 9%. A year ago is was just below 10%. However, unemployment is increasing at present. The CPI (headline number) is just over 3%, whereas a year ago it was below 2%. The trend is increasing. Interest rates are near zero for short-term paper and just over 3% for long-term debt. Both rates are similar to a year ago. Long-term rates are on a downward trend while short-term rates are flatlined. Industrial production is up around 4% from the year previous, whereas a year ago it was over 6% higher than the previous year. The trend is declining, although in this case the denominator is increasing, so it is not unexpected that the trend would be declining. Industrial production was so low in 2009 that the improvements in 2010 looked good, even though they were simply fighting to restore the production lost during the depths of the recession.
The overall health of the economy, based on these indicators, is not good. Unemployment is persistently high, and responds to stimulus only in the short run. Interest rates are very low, so there is little that the Fed can do about stimulating the economy by changing the cost of borrowing. Worse, inflation is beginning to increase. This reflects global demand exerting pressures on prices of goods in the U.S. (oil, for example). With higher inflation, buying power is reduced, and this will hurt the recovery.
2. The economy is in a general state of decline. In the past couple of years, the recovery effort has stalled. Gains made in 2010 were temporary. The economy is failing to create enough jobs to bring down the unemployment rate, and the rate of GDP growth is falling. These figures all point to an economy that is slowing down. At this point, there is also little hope for stimulus in the form of monetary policy, with short-term rates near the zero bound and long-term rates declining as well.
The decline in the economy is worrisome, given the long-run trends. Unemployment has remained high for several years. The rate of GDP growth has not been able to sustain a healthy level. With CPI increasing, the cost of living for Americans is increasing and yet there is little GDP growth and no new jobs to help the average worker account for that higher cost of living.
3. Given the current trends, the outlook for the next year is not positive. Higher CPI is going to reduce purchasing power. This in turn will continue to suppress industrial production, and continue to be a drag on GDP growth. This GDP growth in turn will stunt job growth. The indicators today are pointing to a negative feedback loop that will weaken the U.S. economy over the course of the next year. There is no practical room for monetary policy to help; and little political room for fiscal policy to help.
Given this reality, the outlook for the next year is poor. Economic growth is unlikely to hit recession levels, but it will continue to be sluggish, and will fail to deliver job growth. The unemployment rate, therefore is going to increase slightly over the next year. There is no major indicator that is pointed in a positive direction, given the negative feedback loop, so short of dramatic political action, there is no reason for optimism for the health of the U.S. economy in the coming year, based on analysis of the major economic indicators.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: http://research.stlouisfed.org/publications/iet/us/us.pdf
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