US GDP Growth Moves Toward Zero

A new Wall Street Journal poll of prominent economists revised their collective GDP growth estimate for the year from 2.7% to 2.2%. To some extent the worry about a slowdown is based on the current price of the dollar. Another factor is a slowdown of economies overseas. Yet another is that consumer spending will be hog-tied by rising gasoline prices and mediocre job creation. As experts ratchet down expectations, more and more of them have stepped toward zero growth for U.S. gross domestic product this year.

The world of economists was shaken recently as the Atlanta Federal Reserve moved its forecast for this year to zero GDP growth. Some analysts believe that if the Fed raises rates, recent growth in business world, among consumers, in the stock market and in the housing market will deteriorate. At what point will consumers pull back if they see the value of their retirement funds drop, or they believe that the housing market may dip again, even if it does not match the catastrophe of 2006 through 2010?

Some economists have made dire warnings recently, Business Insider reported:

HSBC chief economist Stephen King warned in a note to investors that unlike the 2008 recession, there is a lack of “policy ammunition” to jump start the economy out of a downturn.

Whereas previous recoveries have enabled monetary and fiscal policymakers to replenish their ammunition, this recovery — both in the US and elsewhere — has been distinguished by a persistent munitions shortage. This is a major problem. In all recessions since the 1970s, the US Fed funds rate has fallen by a minimum of 5 percentage points. That kind of traditional stimulus is now completely ruled out.

To use a favored phrase, central banks have “run out of ammunition.” To salvage a troubled economy, they would need to give money away.

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The most probable argument about as sharp slowing of GDP growth is that trade partners and U.S. companies that do much of their business overseas cannot weather a stagnant economy, a similar condition and a drop in GDP growth in China to 5% — the combination would be overwhelming. The American consumer cannot carry GDP on its shoulders forever.

If the consumer is two-thirds of gross domestic product, then a slide in confidence, married to years of stagnant income, eventually will take a toll.

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