The Economy Is Not Booming


Neil Irwin writes about the fabulous Trump economy:

The stock market reached yet another new high on Wednesday, the latest development to make a mockery of what savvy economic commentators thought they knew about the world.

Consider how things looked one year ago. The world economy seemed hopelessly trapped in a cycle of low growth and inflation. Markets recoiled at the mere possibility that the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates. Populist political insurgencies seemed to threaten yet more financial market chaos.

Now, interest rates and inflation forecasts have risen substantially from last winter’s lows; financial markets are shrugging off — or even rallying at the possibility of — imminent Fed rate increases; and it is all taking place during Donald J. Trump’s presidency.

Why do we keep hearing this? Once again, here’s the S&P 500 since the end of the Great Recession. I’ve even adjusted it for inflation just to be super fair:

There nothing there. The stock market is growing at precisely the same rate as it has for the past eight years. If you zoom in and take look at the S&P 500 just since Election Day, you see the same thing: it’s been bouncing tightly around a trend line the entire time. There has been no rally at the possibility of interest rate increases from the Fed.

As for inflation, I’ve already dealt with that today. It’s been closely following a trendline too, and literally nothing new has happened since the election. However, it is true that inflationary expectations started rising last June—though a little context helps here:

If you start your chart in mid-2016, you can make it look like inflationary expectations are taking off like a rocket. But in reality, we’re still nowhere close to where we were five years after the end of the Great Recession, and expectations have flattened out in the past couple of months.

Finally, economic growth. You can talk about animal spirits all you want, but GDP growth in the US has been running steadily between 1 percent and 3 percent since 2010. Last quarter it was 1.9 percent, and there’s no particular reason to think it’s about to take a sustained jump. As for the rest of the world, the IMF doesn’t seem especially optimistic:

US growth might be a little sluggish, but it’s still a lot better than China and Europe, which are projected to decline in 2017 and 2018. The rest of the world will do a little better, but only a little.

However, there is one part of the economy that has unquestionably been booming since Trump was elected: big Wall Street banks.

Wall Street has been kicking major ass since November 8. And why not? The economy may or may not be booming, but they’re pretty sure that Trump is going to lower their taxes and ease up on all those pesky regulations that Obama tried to force on them. If I were a big bank, I’d be pretty excited too.

I’m not especially trying to badmouth the economy here. It’s doing fine, if not great. Growth is decent, wages are showing signs of life, we’re getting close to full employment, and inflation is under control. As labor markets tighten, we might even see some real improvement in wages and living standards. That’s not bad, especially compared to the rest of the world. But there’s really not much evidence that we’ve been in any kind of boom times since November. Growth is steady, the stock market is steady, employment is steady, and inflation is steady. Just because Wall Street is excited doesn’t mean they know something we don’t.