Saturday, July 28, 2018


And then there is the latest GDP report, showing growth of over 4%.  Trump of course crowed about how fantastic the figures are and how they will keep going up.  I can only hope that on some level he realizes that simply isn't true.  The markets reacted with a predictable "Meh" and slid some, probably for the wrong reasons, including that this wasn't as high as projected.  Personally, I think it's bilge.

"Why?" you ask.  Well, first, GDP really isn't a terribly good measure of economic health, especially in times like these where wealth is accumulating at the extreme top end of the scale.  99% of the population could be living like Bronze Age goatherders, but so long as the top 1% is making it and spending it, GDP says the economy is great.  Let's put it this way: If the economy is doing so well, where is the job growth, where is the wage growth.  They simply aren't happening.

Second, Q2 figures are probably gamed, even more than usual.  The "tax reform" refunds arrived, and while the overwhelming majority of people didn't receive enough extra to matter (My taxes actually went up, thank you very much.), the folks on top received piles, which they spent, thus increasing GDP.  Also, everyone knew tariff wars were coming with Q3, so they packed as much buying and selling as possible in Q2 to avoid them.  Finally, everyone knew the Fed would continue to hike interest rates in Q3, so everyone got their financing and cut their deal in Q2.

In other words, expect Q3 GDP to drop, probably be quite a bit.

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Housing Market Slowdown

As I wrote in my previous post, rental housing is tight because people can't afford to buy.  The pundits are finally waking up to the fact that the housing market is slowing down and so the merry-go-round is about to stop again.  As a preliminary note, the only reason the housing market has been increasing is because a lot of hot, commercial money has been jumping in to snap up tons of houses for potential rentals or tear-down redevelopment; owner-occupied housing, which creates the community stability and social benefits we traditionally look for from this market, has not been making the difference.

The pundits talk about rising prices and rising interest rates forcing people out of the market, but they are ignoring, perhaps deliberately, the elephant in the room.  Too many people lack the economic stability to make such a long-term purchase.  Their income hasn't been steady for the last several years (if ever), they don't know how steady it will be over the next five years (It probably won't be.), and they don't even know if they'll be here for the next five years (probably not).  People can't buy, and even if they can, they don't have a good reason to.

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Vacancy Rates

Recently saw the Q2 commercial vacancy rates for Salt Lake County, broken down as residential, office, retail, manufacturing, and warehouse.  It looked like a very rosy picture, with low vacancy rates all around.  Personally, I think they smell.  Like mackerel in the moonlight, they shine and stink.  Manufacturing and warehouse are low because they're being converted into the other areas and aren't being replaced.  Multifamily residential is low because people can't afford to buy.  As for office, there are thousands of square feet that are leased but are currently unoccupied (ostensibly because the lessee needs room for expansion, but we'll see how much of that happens) or are being used for on-site storage.  As for the retail numbers, someone is lying.  They pass neither the eyeball test nor the smell test.  Drive around the valley and look at the empty space.  Doesn't matter what kind of retail it is, the vacancy rates are high.  Anybody who thinks otherwise is living in a cave.  It's like just about every other bit of news about our "booming" economy: It only works by being highly selective with the data and then not examining the analysis very much.

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