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Mixed Economic Data Show A Changing Business Cycle

发布者: chrislau2001 | 发布时间: 2008-9-9 13:04| 查看数: 1624| 评论数: 1|

If you look at output -- the amount of goods and services Americans produce -- the economy has been rising at a decent clip. But people aren't feeling it in their wallets because the factors driving their own incomes -- such as jobs and wages -- are under strain.

The point has been underscored by a slew of economic reports released in the past few weeks. The government's measure of inflation-adjusted gross domestic product expanded at a surprisingly robust 3.3% annual rate in the second quarter. Exports were a big driver, in particular exports of industrial supplies and capital goods.

Yet employment has fallen for eight straight months by a cumulative 605,000 jobs. More than half of the losses have been in manufacturing. You might expect manufacturing employment to hold up better during an export boom. But it isn't.

With job losses mounting, companies are cutting back on hours and getting tough on wages. Year-to-year personal income growth has slowed from more than 7% a couple of years ago to a little more than 4% in July, not enough to keep up with inflation.

In theory, output and income should go up and down together. If the economy is still expanding, why are so many households being squeezed?

One answer is that the business cycle itself is changing. Recessions in the past used to follow a predictable script. Business would slow or inventories would go up too much and catch companies flat-footed. As their own productivity dropped, they would belatedly respond by cutting back on workers. Then, as the process fed on itself, everything would go down together -- output, employment, income and productivity.

The 2001 recession changed the script -- productivity held up surprisingly well throughout. Companies cut back ahead of the business slowdown and kept doing it even after demand started rising again. The productivity they managed to squeeze out of existing workers bolstered output, even as it strained households.

The same thing seems to be happening again: To the surprise of many economists, worker productivity is rising, not falling.

'There seems to be a change in how businesses operate,' says Dean Maki, economist for Barclays Capital. With better technology, businesses get ahead of inventory buildups or demand slowdowns more quickly. The declining influence of unions is also putting management in a position to fire workers more quickly.

The result: While incomes are getting squeezed, the output per hour of workers was up at an annual rate of more than 3% in the first half of the year.

More than ever, it seems, this puts the brunt of a downturn on workers. But there are important upsides to the shift. Better productivity helps bolster corporate profits, so while the stock market is weak it hasn't collapsed as have stock markets elsewhere in the world this year. It also helps restrain inflation and give the Federal Reserve leeway to keep interest rates low and help the economy heal.

It also makes it harder to read a business cycle. The collection of economists at the National Bureau of Economic Research who date recessions debated for months about the beginning and end of the last downturn because of the striking disconnect between output and income.

'If you dated it based on the labor market you'd have it be one of the longest recessions in history, and that didn't feel right,' says Christina Romer, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley. The group finally decided November 2001 -- when output growth restarted -- was the point at which the recession ended, making the eight-month slowdown one of the shortest on record.

But the debate hasn't gone away. 'What matters to individuals more than anything else is the behavior of the labor market,' says John Lonski, chief economist at Moody's Investor Service. 'If I were the NBER I would simplify the entire process and focus on the labor market. From the perspective of the economy and social welfare it's labor-market behavior that matters the most.'

There are other factors at play now, including confusion about how statisticians measure all of these trends. Some economists are skeptical of the 3.3% annualized increase in gross-domestic-product growth registered in the second quarter. The figure, produced by the government's Bureau of Economic Analysis, is out of line with another BEA figure called gross domestic income -- a measure of the income earned by businesses and households.

In theory, the two figures should go up and down together. But gross domestic income expanded at a much smaller 1.9% annual rate in the second quarter, after contracting the two previous quarters. The income number might have been skewed as government statisticians try to make sense of the massive write-offs being recorded by banks. The output number might also have been skewed, for instance by big shifts in the trade environment and the price of oil. Data revisions could ultimately show output wasn't as strong as it now appears.

Statistics aside, it is also possible output won't hold up under the pressures building against the U.S. economy, even with better productivity. Exports have been the bright light in the growth picture. But the global economy is slowing.

Neil Soss, a Credit Suisse economist, notes that three quarters of the economy's growth in the past year came from an improved trade position. 'How much can I count on that for the future?' he asks.

Meantime, the strain on incomes might finally be catching up to households. They will clearly be helped by the drop in gasoline prices, but tax rebates have run their course and the housing and credit squeezes run unabated.

Adjusted for inflation, consumer spending -- the biggest driving force of growth -- contracted in June and July. It hasn't contracted for an entire quarter since late 1991. That 17-year run is now being put to the test. If consumers crack, output and income might finally meet up again -- in recession.

Jon Hilsenrath / Kelly Evans

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chrislau2001 发表于 2008-9-9 13:08:32

美国经济增长 百姓收入缩水



国经济看上去就像在两股道上行进的列车。

如果单看产出方面,即美国商品和服务的总量,美国经济的升势相当不错。但美国老百姓却并没因此而感到钱包鼓起来,因为那些能推动他们收入增长的因素──如就业和工资,依然形势严峻。

这一点已被过去几周陆续发布的一系列经济报告所印证。今年第二季度,美国经通货膨胀因素调整后的国内生产总值(GDP)出人意料地强劲增长了3.3%。出口──尤其是工业品和资本财货的出口──对此功不可没。

但与此同时,就业人数却连续八个月下滑,累计减少605,000人。其中超过一半出现在制造业。你可能会以为出口繁荣会改善制造业的就业状况,但实际情况却并非如此。






随着失业人数攀升,企业正不断减少工时、压缩工资增幅。个人收入较上年同期的增幅已经从两年前的7%以上下降至今年7月份的仅略高于4%,还不足以抵消通货膨胀率的侵蚀。

理论上说,产出和收入应该同起同落才对。如果经济仍在增长,为什么如此多的家庭感到荷包缩水?

答案之一是经济景气周期本身正在改变。以往的经济衰退都是按照一个人们可预知结果的脚本有序上演。商业活动的减弱或库存升至过高水平将使企业经营陷入困境。随着企业劳动生产率的下降,它们相应地将会裁减工人。此后,随着经济衰退的逐步加深,无论是经济产出、就业、收入还是劳动生产率,所有指标都会出现下降。

但2001年那次经济衰退却未按这一脚本上演。那次衰退期间劳动生产率指标出人意料地一直表现良好。企业在商业活动出现减缓之前就开始缩减开支,甚至在市场需求回升之后仍继续这样做。企业从现有员工身上挖掘出更高的劳动生产率,从而提高了经济产出,与此同时却抑制了工薪族家庭收入的增长。

现在这一现象似乎又出现了:令许多经济学家意外的是,目前经济不景气的大环境下工人的劳动生产率却在提高,而非下降。

Barclays Capital的经济学家迪安•马基(Dean Maki)说,企业运营的方式似乎发生了改变。借助科技进步的力量,企业得以更快地应对库存增加或需求的减缓。而工会影响力的减弱也使企业经营者能够更加迅速地裁减员工。

其结果是,虽然美国工人实际收入出现了下降,但他们今年上半年的每小时产出折合成年率却增长了3%以上。

如此看来,经济增长放缓造成的打击比以往任何时候都更多落在了劳动者头上。但这种转变也有其重要的积极一面。劳动生产率提高有助于支撑企业利润,因此虽然美国股市疲软,但它今年一直没有像世界其他地方一样出现暴跌。劳动生产率提高还有助于遏制通胀,给美国联邦储备委员会(Federal Reserve)将利率保持在低位以帮助美国经济恢复活力留下了余地。



Associated Press



这也增加了解读经济景气周期的难度。美国国家经济研究局(NBER)的经济学家们曾就上一次经济衰退的起止时间争论了数月,导致他们迟迟无法达成一致的原因是产出和收入出现了惊人的背离现象。美国历次经济衰退起止于何时都是由这些经济学家负责界定的。

加州大学伯克利分校(University of California, Berkeley)的经济学教授克里斯蒂安•罗马尔(Christina Romer)说,如果你根据就业市场情况来确定上一次经济衰退的起止时间,那么这将是历史上持续时间最长的一次衰退,可人们的实际感觉却并非如此。NBER最终决定将2001年11月作为上一次经济衰退终止的时间,因为美国的经济产出在那一个月恢复了增长,这使得此次衰退的时间只有八个月,成为美国历史持续时间最短的经济衰退。

但这些经济学家的争论并未因最终结论的作出而烟消云散。穆迪投资服务公司(Moody's Investor Service)的首席经济学家约翰•龙斯基(John Lonski)说,对个人来说最重要的是就业市场状况,如果他是NBER,他会简化这一评估程序,只关注就业市场。因为从经济和社会福利的角度看,就业市场状况才是最重要的因素。

目前还有其他一些因素也在影响着人们对经济状况的判断,包括人们对统计部门的哪项衡量指标更能综合反映各种经济趋势也不甚了了。一些经济学家对美国第二季度国内生产总值较上年同期增长3.3%的数据持怀疑态度。该数据由美国经济分析局(BEA)计算得出,但它却与BEA负责统计的另一个数据──国内收入总值(衡量企业和家庭收入的指标)出现了背离。

理论上说,这两个数据应该同起同落才对。但美国第二季度的国内收入总值只比上年同期增长了1.9%,远低于国内生产总值的增幅。此前两个季度的国内收入总值更是为负增长。由于政府统计人员试图反映出银行大量冲销资产对经济的影响,因此国民收入总值可能被低估。另一方面,由于美国对外贸易环境的重大改变以及油价大幅上涨等因素的作用,国内生产总值数据也可能被高估了。最终修正后的数据可能会显示,美国经济产出的增长势头可能并不像现在看上去那样强劲。

抛开统计因素不谈,即使劳动生产率获得提高,面对美国经济身上日益增大的压力,经济产出仍有可能无法维持目前良好的增长势头。虽然出口一直是美国经济增长方面的亮点,但别忘了全球经济增长正在放缓。

瑞信(Credit Suisse)经济学家尼尔•索斯(Neil Soss)指出,过去一年中有三个季度的经济增长得益于外贸状况的改善。他反问道:今后还能继续依靠这个吗?

与此同时,美国家庭可能终于开始感受到收入减少的压力了。虽然汽油价格下跌显然有助于减轻美国人的经济负担,但退税给收入带来的提振作用已成强弩之末,而房价下跌和信贷紧缩的不利影响依旧挥之不去。

美国6、7两月经通货膨胀因素调整后的消费支出出现了负增长,而消费支出一直是推动美国经济增长的最大动力。自1991年末以来美国的消费支出还未出现过整个一个季度负增长的情况。这一保持了17年的纪录今年是否会打破有待观察。如果消费出了问题,那么经济产出和收入最终可能也会下降,那时经济衰退就真的来了。

Jon Hilsenrath / Kelly Evans
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