There is no recession now and there won't be one in the foreseeable future. After eight good years of economic growth, people are reacting to a modest slowdown as though it were a depression.
Things have been so good for so long that people don't even know what a recession is. The textbook definition is "two consecutive quarters of negative gross national product" - and we haven't even had one.Recession talk is becoming so rampant that, for all practical purposes, most Americans assume the economy is already in recession. However, the facts belie this.
Unemployment is at 5.7 percent, barely higher than what was considered full employment only a few years ago. In November and December 1982, the height of the latest recession, unemployment peaked at 10.8 percent.
Aside from the latest oil shock, inflation is down and consumer necessities such as food should climb by a slight 2 percent in 1991.
Housing has been perhaps hardest hit, however:
"As bad as the press says the housing market is, year-to-date home re-sales for the nation are down only 2 percent from last year," said John Pfister, vice president/market research for Chicago Title Insurance. "Yes, the super-high growth markets of the past few years have slowed markedly, but the rest of the country is doing OK."
"The brighter spots of the nation are the smaller and midsize markets, such as Boise, Peoria, Omaha, Akron, Salt Lake City, Grand Rapids and Madison (Wisc.). Major markets in the Midwest are a little down, but are still doing well," Pfister said. "The oil patch is coming back, as is Alabama and South Carolina."
Consumers are continuing to spend, despite reports that their confidence is down. "Leisure travel has been holding up very well, we're ahead of last year," said Stanley Sherman, vice president of sales for Easy Travel/Best Travel, an 18-office travel chain. "The lower dollar is affecting travel destinations not overall travel. Travel overseas is down because of war safety fears, not because of the economy."
The press is focusing on economic horror stories and missing the overall reality: the economy is slow, not dead. When it comes to press coverage Pfister said, "I guess hangings attract more interest than weddings."
FORECAST: A speedy solution to the gulf crisis would bring oil prices back down to the $18-$22 per barrel range. This in turn would cause the stock market to soar, with the Dow Jones Industrial average nearing or passing 3,000.
U.S. ECONOMIC INDICATORS: The much anticipated revision to third-quarter GNP is in and the number isn't bad. Furthermore, manufacturing is up, 10-day auto sales are up and the only damper on the economy is oil prices.
GROSS NATIONAL PRODUCT (GNP) for the third quarter was reported at 1.7 percent, a slight 0.1 percentage point downward revision from last month's preliminary report. While most experts are forecasting a substantial drop in fourth-quarter GNP (to roughly 0.4 percent growth), the third-quarter revision is certainly not indicative of an ongoing recession.
PERSONAL INCOME continued to increase in October, but only 0.12 percent, the smallest monthly increase since July of 1989. However, at 4.71 trillion, October income is up 2.4 percent from six months ago and 6.1 percent from a year ago.
CONSUMPTION EXPENDITURES declined by a slight 0.03 percent in October, the first decline since June 1989. Even though Americans continue to spend, expenditures are up 3.3 percent over six months ago and 6.6 percent from a year ago, they will cut back in the face of exorbitant prices, namely gasoline.
With spending down and income up, it could be a sign that consumers are cutting back before Christmas, so that they can afford to put some nice gifts under the tree. Look for the big shopping season to be adequate for retailers.
DURABLE GOODS orders and shipments were both up in October. New orders were up 3.6 percent to a level of $129.5 billion, 4.7 percent above six months ago and 4.2 percent higher than a year ago. Transportation equipment, including cars and airplanes, were up 14.8 percent, primary metals were up 4.9 percent and electrical machinery was up 1.9 percent.
Shipments were gained 1.8 percent to $126.5 billion. The sectors experiencing the healthiest gains were: transportation equipment up 3.9 percent, primary metals up 2.0 percent and nonelectrical machinery (office and computing equipment) up 1.6 percent.
Reader questions will be answered and may appear in this column, when mailed to Gary S. Meyers at 308 W. Erie, Suite 300, Chicago, IL 60610