US growth performance hides very disturbing regional trends

Last Friday (October 27, 2017), the US Bureau of Economic Analysis published their latest national accounts data – Gross Domestic Product: Third Quarter 2017 (Advance Estimate), which tells us that annual real GDP growth rate was 3 per cent in the September-quarter 2017, slightly down on the 3.1 per cent recorded in the June-quarter. As this is only the “Advance estimate” (based on incomplete data) there is every likelihood that the figure will be revised when the “second estimate” is published on November 29, 2017. The US result was driven, in part, by a continued (but slowing) contribution from personal consumption expenditure which coincided with record levels of household indebtedness. How long consumption expenditure can be kept growing as the debt levels rise is a relevant question. At some point, the whole show will come to a stop as it did in 2008 and that will impact negatively on private investment expenditure as well, which has just started to show signs of recovery. Governments haven’t learned that relying on personal consumption expenditure for economic growth in an environment of flat wages growth means that household debt will rise quickly and reach unsustainable levels. How harsh the correction will be is as yet unclear. But when it comes, the US government will need to increase its discretionary fiscal deficit to stimulate confidence among business firms and get growth back on track.

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