Skip to comments.THEY HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING (Bogus GDP, inflation numbers)
Posted on 11/01/2007 7:01:20 PM PDT by Travis McGee
Yesterday, as the dollar fell to new record lows and oil and gold prices surged to new highs, Wall Street remained fixated on wholly meaningless government data that managed to report the lowest inflation in the last half century. These bizarre numbers were integral in allowing the Commerce Department to report 3.9% annualized GDP growth in the third quarter, which was heralded by the bulls as evidence that a resilient U.S. economy had shrugged off the problems in the housing and mortgage markets. However, the governments ability to make economic growth magically appear is based purely on statistical finesse.
To arrive at this rate, the government had to assume that inflation during the quarter ran at an annualized rate of .8% (thats less than 1%). That is the lowest rate of inflation used to calculate U.S. GDP since the Eisenhower administration. With oil priced at almost $100 per barrel, gold futures trading over $800 per ounce, the dollar hitting record lows, and the Fed printing money like it is going out of style, the government has the nerve to claim that current inflation is the lowest it has been in half a century. Unbelievable!
Just in case there is some confusion, the government adjusts nominal GDP gains using the GDP deflator, which represents the inflation rate during the time period being measured. This is done to strip inflation out of the GDP calculation so that only real growth gets counted: not nominal gains that result purely from inflation.
The consensus estimate for 3rd quarter GDP growth was 3.4%. The reason we beat that number was that the government adjusted the nominal 4.7% gain by a mere .8%. Had the government assumed a higher rate of inflation, say 2.6% (identical to the rate used to deflate second quarter GDP,) the 3rd quarter gain would have been only 2.1%, well shy of the consensus forecast. My guess is that inflation is actually running at an annualized rate closer to 10%. Therefore using a more honest deflator, the U.S. economy is actually contracting, which would explain the recent anecdotal evidence provided by various economic polls, voter dissatisfaction and consumer sentiment numbers. In fact, if one simply measures U.S. GDP using gold or any other currency, it is clear that we are already in a recession.
Similar illusions are created in other numbers, such as retail sales, corporate earnings, and stock prices, which are all rising merely as a result of actual inflation being higher than the official reports. For example, higher retail sales reflect consumers paying higher prices for the products that they buy. They may in fact be buying less stuff, but are paying more for it. Further, part of the gains result from tourists using their appreciated foreign currencies to buy products cheaper here than they can in the own countries. I have heard about Canadians checking into U.S. hotels with empty suitcases, crossing the border to indulge in weekend shopping sprees.
Corporate earnings, particularly those of multi-nationals, are padded as their foreign currency denominated earnings translate into more dollars when those earnings are repatriated. However, such gains are illusions, as companies merely earn more dollars of diminished value for the goods they sell. The actual volume of exports does not necessarily improve much, as evidenced by weak industrial production and manufacturing employment. When those additional debased dollars are paid out as dividends, they confer no real increase in global purchasing power to shareholders.
Similarly, just as inflation causes prices to rise for goods and services it causes stock prices to rise as well. Though such gains may be less than the actual increase in the cost of living, as long as the government gets away with using bogus CPI numbers which fail to fully reflect inflation, Wall Street takes credit for nominal gains as if they were real.
However, as ridiculous as the phony GDP number was, yesterdays biggest joke was a report on global competitiveness put out by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, which ranked the U.S. economy as the worlds most competitive. To arrive at this conclusion, the forum has obliterated the obvious under a mountain of theory. In determining country rankings, the WEF weighed strengths in their "12 Pillars of Competitiveness", including: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, health and primary education, higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market sophistication, technological readiness, market size, business sophistication and innovation. Completely ignored however are the measurable results of competitiveness, notably a trade surplus and a strong currency.
It is as if the WEF decided to judge a weight loss contest without using a scale, by instead focusing only on mental attitude, dedication, perseverance, and nutritional education! As a result the prize is awarded to the fattest contestant. Based on the empirical evidence of a gargantuan trade deficit, staggering global indebtedness, and a declining currency, the United States is clearly not the most competitive economy in the world.
I blame the “greenies”. We need energy to run this place and there IS a shortage due to China and India and the rest of the evolving world. We have plenty of the stuff but cant get at it because of the “greenies” and we have tied ourselves to the Middle East for fuel.
Then we went and tied our agricultural market to the energy market with ethanol.
Looked at ammo prices lately?
Does it cost a dollar to print a dollar? Why does the fed need to make so much money again?
You could have seen higher prices on food and fuel in some places. You could have also seen lower prices on other things. (The former probably stand out in your mind more than the latter.) What I doubt is that you've seen actual evidence that inflation was definitely greater than 0.8%. Above all else, any anecdotal evidence you could have possibly seen in one single quarter, is too small a sample to be of statistical significance. But there are also the problems of confirmation bias and how representative the goods are that you tend to buy.
"Milk was $3.79 and later I saw it for $3.99, therefore inflation couldn't have been only 0.8%." Essentially that's what you're saying, and that is wrong. It is an incorrect argument. Even if you told me in full detail what goods you think you saw get more expensive (in 2007Q3), and by how much, there is nothing you could realistically say that would necessarily contradict the claim that inflation in that quarter was 0.8%.
Are you just whistling past the graveyard?
Or maybe its wishful thinking on your part since you want to believe those growth numbers.
I don't "want to believe" those growth numbers. I don't care about those growth numbers. What I care about is shoddy argumentation.
I also grow weary of chicken-littles. We are a nation that can afford to spend $600 on "iPhones", supply each of our teenagers with an "iPod", buy water in bottles because we prefer the taste to tap, spend over $4 for a "latte" (coffee with milk) at Starbuck's, and make Alex Rodriguez a billionaire for hitting a ball with a stick in front of us. Yet for some reason we nevertheless feel this odd compulsion to tell ourselves (using our computers and internet connections, which we all have of course) how bad off we are and that economic disaster and depression is just around the corner. What whiners we are. I think anyone who thinks it's interesting and informative to whine that the government marked inflation at 0.8% instead of 2.8% or 5.8% in 2007Q3, and tries to use that as a launching pad into a discussion of how we have a horrible economy, should be required to travel back in time 75 years and give that same oh so clever speech to a randomly-selected group of Americans. Well, randomly selected - from Oklahoma.
Even if you're right that wouldn't contradict the 0.8% number, which is for 2007Q3 only. Maybe inflation was 14% in the first two quarters and 0.8% last quarter. Bingo, that gets us to 15% on the year.
Fuel prices are not going to go down by any substantial amount when China is using more and more of the world supply every day.
We will continue to see gov’t shills trying to convince us everything is under control when they can’t control a damn thing.
We’ll talk about this in a year and see if you still believe the govt statistics. I don’t have to read about Okies in the depression. My Grandmother participated and I have Aunts still living in California who migrated from Ok. during the depression.
Oh boy. Now we're judging inflation based on tuna. These arguments are getting worse, not better.
While the price PER CAN has increased a relatively modest 25% in price over a two year period, the contents have dropped by at least 50%.
Source? (I don't necessarily doubt you but source would be nice)
There are many anecdotal examples like this
Oh, I'm sure there are. And therefore it's enough just to talk about a can of tuna. Yes, this is a good argument that inflation must be >0.8%. I'm convinced now.
At the end of the day, people, regardless of income levels have a sinking sense "something is not right" They are correct.
What you mean is, you have a "sinking sense that something is not right". I, meanwhile, don't know what you're talking about. If you wanted to convince someone for real, what you'd do is, you'd make an actual argument, backed up by actual data, and stuff like that. You have not done so. till then,
The only way to fix it is to come up with more energy OR drive China over the brink, to were they cant afford it and all they invested in collapses
Please try to follow what I'm actually saying. Please.
I never said I "believe" the 0.8% government statistic. Almost the opposite. Please read the first sentence of my first post this thread.
What I said was that the writer of this article has no argument whatsoever against that statistic. And incidentally, neither do you.
I dont have to read about Okies in the depression. My Grandmother participated and I have Aunts still living in California who migrated from Ok. during the depression.
Good. Why don't you call your aunts up and whine to them about how horrible the U.S. economy is today, instead of posting here. Better yet, send them an email, on your computer, saying this. I think you deserve their sympathy for living through the roughest, poorest time in American history. Truly, we are all suffering in abject poverty. Poor us!
It means no one has tomorrows Wall St Journal today.
You been to the grocery as of late?
The price of everything not made in china is up
Pharmaceuticals, like aspirin and antibiotics, are made from petroleum derivatives. Bandages, surgical implants, hearing aids, tubing, and more....
I have indeed been to the grocery store, at several times during 2007Q3, and noticed no change of noticeable significance over that time. Especially a change occurring purely in 2007Q3. That doesn't mean there hasn't been a change, just that I did not observe one.
You've measured this statistically? Established that the increase is significant? Or is this the same "anecdotal" test that everyone else seems to be using?
You do also realize, I hope, that your grocery store could have a different set of prices for goods as other grocery stores? Like I told others, "Milk went up at MY grocery store by X" is not a counterargument to "0.8% inflation". If anything, it's consistent with that. You say inflation has occurred, and so does the government statistician. What's the dispute?
If your dispute is that you think it MUST BE more than 0.8%, then you'd have to actually talk numbers. But that would require measuring things, gathering data, doing calculations. Much easier just to pretend that "anecdotal" argument is sufficient.
mylife, I see that you have already posted. Tell your friends ;-) Cheers!
Im seeing 25% increases in foodstuffs and I shop around
a buck and a buck 25 is still a 25% difference
“What I said was that the writer of this article has no argument whatsoever against that statistic.”
Indeed. Schiff has been predicting a total economic collapse “next week” for so long he’s now reduced to saying the stats are faked, and we are in a depression but just dont’ know it. Next he’ll be claiming that there are secret hidden soup lines all over the country and the unemployment rate is really 25%.
Yes, I saw that. And the fact is we are seeing higher prices.
I like your approach on the topic. Who can sustain this need for energy?
Gasoline went up 15c a gal here overnight. Today I was informed that management is demanding we turn out the lights when we arent in a particular work area.
Hmmm...I havent heard talk like that since...1976
See? Inflation is so bad that even the price of stocks is going up! Why, my company's stock has gone up 10% in price just in the past week. Doomed, I tell you, doomed!
Winn-Dixie or A&P?
I concur: Food costs more, fuel costs more and rent is the same or higher.
The ONLY factor that is marginally down is housing PURCHASES. Rent and mortgages are mostly UP!
Okay, *I* have a sinking sense something is not right.
In the real world, the cannery would close the current facility or modernize in place or switch to alternative packaging.
For some reason it remains stuck with 20th Century technology and attempts to disguise the obvious cost imbalance with flimsy chicanery.
Government measurement techniques have been criticized since the 1960's with their use of non typical "typical" grocery baskets of items people use occasionally or limited to certain populations.
The topic was anedotal examples and I produced a classic.
It is possible to do the same with building materials, ammunition, medical expenses, modern technological equipment.
Even with offsets the cost increases do not match the official government figures.
Yes, that is my opinion.
So called experts who want to convince me otherwise by picking fly turds out of black pepper will have a hard row to hoe.
No change of any noticeable significance over the last quarter?
A price rise of over 100% is not noticeable?
I have a tenant with “special needs” who lives on Shreddies and peanut butter.
I used to pay $3.47/box for Shreddies up until about 4 months ago. Last week, the best price I could find for that same size Shreddies container was $8.79.
Either you are FAR more disconnected from the rest of the real world than you realize, or you are being disingenous.
“Why does the fed need to make so much money again?”
To keep the toxic credit derivative bubble intact...
Before you lay the “anecdotal info is not statistically valid” BS on me, I defy you to present ONE grocery item that is NOT more expensive TODAY than it was last year. I will ALSO allow “inflationary” differences.
0.8% my hairy a**. LIes, Damned lies, and statistics. Figures lies, and liars figure.
Can’t Peter just pretend he’s as stupid as the govt. thinks he is?
Agreed. I'll believe we're in financial straights when I start observing a noticeable decrease in the size of American stomachs. The only thing I've observed, anecdotally to be sure, is an increase over the last ten years. And they were pretty large ten years ago. At any time any pessimist can dredge up some negative stats to "prove" that things are really bad. I maintain that a country that has money to buy junk food in large quantities is not a country that is in a depression.
" Here's a fer instance: I supply high carb-high sugar stuff for the afternoon break. Hostess fruit pies, always a popular item, used to be $.99 to $1.09.
Now, they run $1.39 to $1.49 That's just a quick recall, everything else is in envelopes at the bookkeepers. Now these aren't make or break items for my biz, just a reflection of the increase I see in everyday items.
How much of that increase do you suppose is due to increased fuel costs?
Bears repeating. Good post.
Thank you for your injections of logic and common sense.
You’re using a minuscule statistical world based on Shreddiess to draw large conclusions.
90% Ground beast $1.99
Chicken breasts $1.99 lb
Whole chicken $1.30 lb
Rump Roast $2.59 lb
Bananas $.40 lb
Cheddar cheese $3.00 lb
E&J Brandy 750ml $7.99
Flour $1.80 5 lb
Cake mix $1.09
Potatoes $1.75 5 lbs
Jacks frozen Pizza, $2.00
Green coffee beans, Columbian&Tanzanian averaging $5.00 lb
Eggs are higher and I might add up to spending $8 more dollars a year.
Milk is higher and I might end up spending $35 more dollars a year.
I’ll believe we’re doomed when I see people stop driving 75 mph in their hulking 2 ton vehicles. I’ll believe we’re doomed when people stop paying monthly fees to exercise in a gym.
The free market will astound you. See what happens if we have sustained $5.00 a gallon gas.
Heard a guy on a financial talk show put it something like, “If you torture the data enough, you can get it to confess to anything.”
The point is to identify and fix the problems early, not wait until they are inflicting pain.
The fed needs to print so much money so they can keep buying bonds to depress the interest rate. It also doesn’t help that the government spends and spends and spends far beyond what it takes in.
No one cares what it costs to print a dollar. It’s only a few cents (same for a $100 bill) and most of the money the fed creates is never made into physical currency anyway.
It’s time to start beating up Democrats over their refusal to allow us to produce and refine more of our own oil and also build nuke plants. This should be a huge campaign issue for Republicans. Get on it!!
I bought a 1 liter bottle of Club Soda for $1.50. My husband found it at another store at 2 liters for $.88. How do you measure it?
A lot of the really low priced items are more effected by fuel increases. Hostess pies that probably didn’t increase for 5-7 years and then went up. A lot of those retail items work that way. I bet you dont claim we have 0 inflation when you dont see those prices rise at all for several years in a row.
“The point is to identify and fix the problems early, not wait until they are inflicting pain.”
By taking the advice of noted Free Republic economists or Peter Schiff?
I am convinced more than ever that the Democrats and the media are freaking out about their loss in destroying the war effort. If they can’t whine about that, their whino brigade will start attacking the administration on domestic issues to crash the economy.
For the Democrats to win, the MUST crush the current administration and stomp to bits any hint of good news or progress.
Lots of strings and hidden hands pulling them.
My next business idea is to sell gloom colored glasses as they will sell right well on Free Republic. Of course I can’t sell them here, but maybe I can give them away to drive home my point.
So, everything is just fine? Is that your opinion?
We are the most spoiled nation in history. We have a god given right to $1.00 a gallon gas, food prices that never fluctuate and government, by god had better keep it that way or we’re going to be pissed.
Others realize that a static economy is a dying economy and they take steps to adapt to changes.
If I had listened to the sky is falling chicken littles, I would be considerably poorer today. Chicken littles word’s in my mind are now balanced with pounds of skepticism. They have been wrong so often and for so long. Maybe I will pay for this someday and wish I had listened. It hasn’t happened yet.
Maybe there are people that bought houses they shouldn’t have and maybe there are people that bought more house than they should have. If the government spends my tax dollars or puts forth herculean efforts to keep these people in those houses, it is a much better use of tax dollars IMO than giving the money to farmers to not produce crops or giving the money to an able bodied citizens to continue to sit on their butts.
Is everything fine? I can’t see the future. Some people are prospering and some people are hurting. You can always find the negative when that is all that you are looking for.
I agree with you on that. I know many people today who have never had it better. However, please note that this is a conservative forum. Posters generally have no agenda in spouting off negatively about the economy more or less under Republican stewardship. In fact, with the election coming up, they have every reason to talk up the economy. But that’s not what I’m seeing day after day on these threads, which leads me to believe something’s seriously wrong.
Secondly, I personally think the deficit and debt chickens are coming home to roost. I don’t believe they’re here yet, but definitely on the horizon.
All of them are true...until they aren't. ;)
There are some posters that continually post nothing but negative articles on FR. They have done so for years. I see it day after day, so it is hard to tell if something is seriously wrong or not.
I have no shortage of negative news available. CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, NYT have it covered quite well.