All posts by joel

October Durable Goods Orders, November Consumer Sentiment and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: Durables: -1.2%; Excluding Transportation: +0.4%; Capital Spending: -0.5%; Sentiment: -2.2 points; Claims: -13,000

IN A NUTSHELL: “Businesses may have paused in their capital spending in October, but they are still investing heavily.”

WHAT IT MEANS: With the passage of a corporate tax cut becoming more possible, the likelihood is that future business capital spending should be strong. While there was a drop in investment in October, the trend this year is still up solidly. A sharp drop in Boeing’s aircraft orders created the decline. In contrast, vehicle orders surged. This sector has been up and down, but with demand really strong the past couple of months, it should continue to help push the economy forward. There were also increases in demand for machinery, electrical equipment, computers and communications equipment. Given the breadth of the gains, I guess you can say that this is another number where the headline was misleading.

Consumer sentiment eased a little in November. The University of Michigan’s index fell as both the current conditions and expectations were down roughly the same amount. Still, consumer confidence is up 5% over the year, a pretty solid gain.

Jobless gains fell back to more normal levels last week after having increased the previous two weeks. That said, it is clear from the level that the labor market remains quite tight.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: As we go into the Thanksgiving Day weekend, it is clear that the economy is in good shape. Household confidence is up this year as is the stock market. Basically, if you are working and invested, you have a lot to be thankful for, no matter what your political preferences. And with the tax bill cutting taxes so significantly for many large companies, it is likely that after-tax earnings will be better next year and firms will probably be passing that on through increased dividends. However, it is doubtful they will want to lock themselves into higher labor costs by raising wages, as the administration seems to think. That said, there should be decent hiring as well. On that note, to everyone:


Have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving weekend!

October Housing Starts and Permits

KEY DATA: Starts: +13.7%; 1-Familly: 5.3%; Multi-Family: 36.8%; Permits: +5.9%; 1-Family: +1.9%; Multi-Family: +13.9%

IN A NUTSHELL: “With home construction back on track, one of the softer segments of the economy is picking up steam.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Home construction had been in a funk for a number of months, but that seems to be changing. Indeed, residential investment, as it is called in the GDP report, restrained growth in the second and third quarters. However, builders have suddenly found reasons to put shovels in the ground. Housing starts soared to the second highest pace in over a decade in October. Much of the increase came from the ever-volatile multi-family segment, which surged by 37%. While the single-family component didn’t rise nearly as much, the gain was still quite good. Geographically, there were some discrepancies and oddities.   In the Midwest and South, all segments were up solid. But in the Northeast, single-family starts tanked but multi-family construction more than tripled. And in the Midwest, total activity decline as single-family starts fell sharply.

Looking outward, the rise in permit requests indicate that home construction should remain firm, though it is doubtful that future gains will look anything close to what we saw in October. Even with the surge in construction, the number of permits requested by not yet used still rose. Indeed, permit requests were slightly higher in October than starts. It is likely that housing will add to growth in the fourth quarter.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: I keep hearing from our learned members of Congress that we desperately need a tax cut because growth is terrible and we people are desperate for jobs. Either I am living in a parallel universe or they are just blowing smoke, but that is just not the case. This isn’t 2009. The economy is moving ahead solidly and as I constantly point out, the issue isn’t available jobs it’s qualified workers. But, of course, in Washington, letting facts get in the way of a good political speech would be tantamount to treason, so we will have to keep listening to the babble. Interestingly, since the tax cuts go largely to upper income households, who will not spend nearly as much of the after-tax income gains as lower and middle-income families, that could wind up being a benefit. The increase in consumer demand will be muted. And from reports coming out of meetings that administration officials have had with business leaders, not a whole lot of the tax cuts cuts will go to new investment. Paying down debt seems to be the usage of choice. I suspect that a lot of the increased profits will, as usual, be used to raise dividends, buy back stock and expand merger and acquisition efforts. So maybe my concerns about the economy picking up too much steam given the lack of workers is overblown. But think about this: The deficit will rise even more than expected if the retained taxes don’t go to new economic activity while at the same time, the Fed is shrinking its balance sheet. That seems to argue for rising supply, falling prices and increasing interest rates. That cannot be great for the economy or equities. Just a thought.

October Industrial Production and Import/Export Prices, November Philadelphia Fed Survey and Home Builders Index and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: IP: +0.9%; Manufacturing” +1.3%/ Import Prices: +0.2%; Export Prices: 0%/ Philadelphia Fed (Manufacturing): -5.2 points/ NAHB: +2 points/ Claims: +10,000

IN A NUTSHELL: “With manufacturing surging, housing solid and inflation near target levels, it is clear the economy can withstand additional rate hikes.”

WHAT IT MEANS: While everyone seems to be focusing on the tax bill as it relates to business spending, I am more concerned that a major tax cut could create enough of a sugar high to cause inflation to accelerate. That could cause the Fed to move next year more often than expected. My worry is based on the already tight labor market and what looks like continued solid economic growth. Industrial production jumped in October led by surges in the vehicle, petroleum, chemicals, computers, apparel and furniture sectors. Put simply, most of manufacturing, whether it was durables or nondurables, was up sharply. This was a broad based increase that really does grab your attention.

Reinforcing the industrial production report was the Philadelphia Fed’s survey of manufacturers. Yes, the index did recede, but it is still high. More importantly, the components were strong as orders rose faster and hiring remained solid, though not as strong as it had been. Looking forward, confidence about not just future activity, but hiring and just about everything else, was up.

On the housing front, the National Association of Home Builders’ index increased to its second highest level in over twelve years. Only this year’s March index was higher. Builders seem to have regained their confidence, though I hope it is not irrational. I don’t think that will be the case. CoreLogic reported that home equity wealth reached its highest level in history. Homeowners have the ability to move, if they want to.

As for inflation, pressures ebbed a bit in October. Import prices rose but not significantly. There is pressure on in the petroleum and related sectors as well as metals. On the export side, farmers got a big gain in prices but that was just about it.

 Jobless claims were up last week, but the level remains extraordinarily low.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The economy is in good shape. The issue is neither growth nor jobs. Growth is solid and firms cannot find workers. So you need to ask what will happen if the economy surges as a result of tax cuts being implemented. Where will the added production come from if firms cannot get the workers already and productivity is in the tank? Maybe inflation doesn’t accelerate, but being an economist, I still think that markets actually work. So remember the old saying: “Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it”. The Fed needs to normalize its balance sheet and interest rates and faster growth and inflation are just the tickets they need to do so as rapidly as they want to.

October Retail Sales, Consumer Prices and Real Income

KEY DATA: Sales: +0.2%; Less Vehicles: +0.1%/ CPI: +0.1%; Less Food and energy: +0.2%/ Real Earnings: -0.1%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Prices may not be rising sharply, but they are increasing enough to restrain purchasing power and household spending.”

WHAT IT MEANS: We are starting to get the first set of fourth quarter numbers and right now they are not anything to write home about. Retail sales rose modestly in October and much of the gain came from sales of vehicles. Until we know about the extent of the flood replacement purchases, the vehicle component has to be viewed with caution. Once the replacement process is over, demand could tumble. The spending report was a bit misleading. For some strange reason, sales on the Internet were actually down. Also, falling gasoline prices reduced sales in that component. Meanwhile, in addition to the strong vehicle demand, people spent a lot of money on clothing, sporting goods, health care and furniture. And, they ate like crazy as spending at restaurants and supermarkets jumped.

On the inflation front, consumer costs didn’t increase a whole lot in October. Declines in gasoline prices, clothing and new vehicles offset increases in shelter, medical and used vehicles prices. Food costs were down in almost every category, including cupcakes. The breadth of the decline was odd and needs to be watched. It could mean they will be up next month. Excluding food and energy, the so-called core index, household prices increase a little faster. Since October 2016, the overall Consumer Price Index is up 2.0% while the core rose 1.8%, both pretty much at the Fed’s target.

Despite the modest rise in prices, household spending power declined in October. Real earnings, which adjusts for inflation, fell as wages were flat. Over-the-year, they are up only 0.4%. Need I say it again? Yes. It is hard to sustain strong economic growth if households don’t have the money to spend and right now, they don’t. They are maintaining their consumption levels by reducing their savings pace and that is not good news for future growth.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: There simply is not enough information to determine if we will once again se a growth rate near or even above 3% in the fourth quarter. The consumer is going to have to do a lot better if growth is going to be strong in the final quarter of the year and there is little reason to be confident that will be the case. Wage gains are moribund, energy pressures continue to build and labor shortages point to modest job increases. The one good thing we have going is that there is now a worldwide expansion. Almost all regions of the global economy are actually in phase and growing. That should help exports. Businesses are likely to wait and see what the tax bill actually contains, especially since some of the tax breaks may be put off for a year. Investors are becoming more cautious about the tax plans as they keep changing. As for the Fed, there is every reason to think that another rate hike will occur at the December 12-13 meeting. The economy has enough strength that there is no reason to slow the normalization process.

October Jobs Report, NonManufacturing Activity and September Trade Deficit

KEY DATA: Payrolls: +261,000; Revisions: +90,000 (+51,000 in September); Unemployment Rate: 4.1% (down 0.1 percentage point)/ ISM (NonManufacturing): +0.3 percentage point/ Trade Deficit: $0.7 billion wider

IN A NUTSHELL: “When you smooth out the weather-induced swings in the data, it is clear the labor market is strong and the economy is solid.”

WHAT IT MEANS: We all assumed that the weak September jobs report was the result of weather issues and that turned out to be indeed the case. The economy added a lot of workers in October, largely making up for the now modest September rise in payrolls. The initially reported September decline was revised to show an increase, so the seven-year run of job increases remains intact. The economy has averaged 162,000 new positions for the past three months and that is right on target, or at least my target. What we saw in October was a reversal of some of the weird numbers that were posted in September. For example, restaurants rehired most of the 98,000 workers they supposedly let go. That makes up much of the swing in the jobs numbers. The oddities in the data make it a waste of time to point out the industry strengths and weakness. I will wait until next month for that.

The unemployment rate declined to 4.1% rate, the lowest in nearly seventeen years. But again, the data have to be viewed with caution. There have been unusually large changes in the labor force, employment and the participation rate over the past couple of months. It is really unclear right now what the unemployment rate will settle down at once the temporary factors come out of the numbers.

There was one other number that shows how we need to approach monthly data with caution. The average hourly wage fell a penny after having risen twelve cents in September. Those changes were largely due to the wild swings in restaurant worker employment. But it shows that the use of average hourly wages as an indicator is really questionable.

The Institute for Supply Management reported that non-manufacturing activity improved in October. New orders expanded robustly, though a touch less so than in September. Hiring improved, which showed in the jobs report.

The trade deficit widened in September. Exports were up but the expanding economy did what was expected, which was suck in even more imports. Oil was one factor but we bought more of just about everything but vehicles. Our exports were driven mostly by oil, as prices were up. It is unclear if this report will change third quarter growth significantly.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: First of all, today’s employment report was as expected. When you smooth the data, firms are hiring about as many people as they can. That said, the report also shows that incomes are going nowhere. Hourly wages are up only 2.4% over the year, which means that inflation-adjusted income rose by less than 1%. You cannot get strong growth when spending power is increasing so modestly. As long as firms are willing and able to operate with large numbers of unfilled positions, wage gains will remain stagnant. But this economy is in good shape and labor demand is exceeding labor supply. If growth accelerates, it is not clear where firms will find the labor to meet their expanding needs. And a surge in growth that could come from tax cuts would tax the labor markets even more. Like so many other economists, I worry that the tax cuts could create imbalances that would ultimately short-circuit what is now the third longest expansion on record.

3rd Quarter Productivity, October Layoffs and Weekly Jobless Claims

KEY DATA: Productivity: 3.0%; Labor Costs: +0.5%/ Layoffs: 29,831/ Claims: down 5,000

IN A NUTSHELL: “Despite an extremely tight labor market where companies are not cutting workers, labor costs remain under control.”

WHAT IT MEANS: If the economy is to accelerate, productivity will have to increase faster than the pathetic pace we have seen over the past few years. And it may be doing that. Worker output rose sharply in the third quarter even as hours worked increased modestly. This led to a jump in productivity, which kept labor costs under control. The quarterly rise in productivity was the largest in three years while the 1.5% increase over the year was the best in two years. That said, productivity is still growing too slowly, given the modest rise in the labor force, to sustain growth much above 2.25%. And, it needs to be pointed out that the decline in payrolls in September, which was likely an aberration, hyped the productivity increase. The number of hours worked expanded at the slowest rate in two years. So, let’s enjoy this report while we can but at the same time, we need to be careful assuming it will be sustained.

Tomorrow is employment Friday and it is likely that payrolls rebounded sharply from the first decline in seven years. Reinforcing that belief was the Challenger, Gray and Christmas report on layoffs. The number of job cuts announced was modest in October and the ten-month total was the lowest in twenty years, when the boom was nearing its peak. Companies are having a tough time filling job openings so they are keeping as many workers as possible. Since job gains are the difference between hiring activity and job reductions for any reason, when cutbacks slow, the net number of new people hired rises.

And if you don’t think the layoff announcement numbers mean anything since they are just announcements not actual cuts, the jobless claims data should erase those beliefs. New claims for unemployment insurance declined last week and are at historic lows.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: It is good to see that productivity is improving, though as I pointed out, I am not so sure that is sustainable. Nevertheless, labor costs are under control and that has allowed the earnings season to look pretty good. But it also indicates that worker incomes are not growing fast enough to allow spending to surge. Indeed, on a year-over-year basis, real hourly compensation has declined for four consecutive quarters. It is hard to spend more when your spending power is declining. The way you do that is by reducing savings and the savings rate is already too low. So, while the data point to a solid economy, they also reinforce the view that growth is not likely to remain strong for an extended period without improved wage gains. Will investors see it that way? Actually, with the new Fed Chair to be named and the October employment report only a day away, I don’t think today’s reports will change a whole lot of thinking.

October Manufacturing Activity, Private Sector Jobs, Help Wanted OnLine and September Construction

KEY DATA: ISM (Manufacturing): -2.1 points; Orders: -1.2 points/ ADP Jobs: 235,000/ HWOL: +81,500/ Construction: +0.3%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The economy did well in September but it looks like it didn’t build on those gains in October.”

WHAT IT MEANS: The September numbers came in pretty strong and that translated into in solid third quarter GDP growth. But as is always the case, all eyes are turning toward the next quarter and so far it looks like growth is solid but not accelerating. The Institute for Supply Management reported that manufacturing activity was really good in October, though it did moderate a touch. Indeed, the index level is consistent with strong manufacturing growth. Orders remained high, even if they increased a little less rapidly, while hiring and production also remained near recent highs. Backlogs continue to build and that implies continued solid activity going forward.

On Friday we get the October employment report and that means on Wednesday, ADP releases its estimate of private sector job gains. The September payroll decline broke a seven-year streak of job gains and it is expected that the drop was an aberration that will be corrected with a strong increase in October. ADP indicated that is likely. Their estimates are that private sector job gains in September and October totaled nearly 350,000. (ADP had payrolls expanding in September.) That seems to make sense to me, though maybe a little high. I expect an upward an upward revision to the September number and an October gain in the 300,000 range.

Reinforcing the belief that the October jobs report will be strong was the sharp increase in the Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine Measure. Gains in October were seen in every region and in most occupations. Still, businesses have been cutting back on their advertising for two years now and the level of ads is well below its peak. I suspect that may be more a function of the inability to fill jobs than a lack of openings. Firms may simply be assuming they can fill only so many open positions and are concentrating on the most important ones.

Construction activity rose in September, but all the gain was from government activity. Private nonresidential construction declined while residential building was essentially flat.  

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Today’s data indicated that the economy didn’t falter much, if at all, in October, but it didn’t speed up either. It looks like vehicle sales were solid in October and that should help, but it still isn’t clear to what extent hurricane replacement is driving the numbers, so be a bit cautious here. Friday’s jobs number should be really good, but don’t be fooled by the headline. To get a better picture of what is happening, average September and October together. I suspect that will look like something closer to about 150,000 per month. But before then, the new Fed Chair will be named and if it is Jerome Powell, as expected, investors will be able to assume that not much will change as far as Fed policy is concerned. They can go back to watching earnings and wondering – or dreaming – about tax cuts. As long as the Republicans embrace massive increases in the national debt, something they have decried for years, the tax bill will pass. But as the details keep dribbling out and the size of the shortfall keeps rising, questions grow about the Freedom Caucus’s willingness to go along with what is shaping up to be a very traditional tax cut bill. As for tax reform, it hardly looks like that is going to happen.

3rd Quarter Employment Costs, October Confidence and Small Business Jobs and August Home Prices

KEY DATA: ECI (Over-Year): +2.5%/ Confidence: +5.3 points/ Jobs Index (Over-Year): -0.51%/ Home Prices (Over-Year): +6.1%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Everything seems to be going up, including wages, home prices and confidence.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Boy have the data looked good lately and today’s numbers are no different. Let’s start with the third quarter Employment Cost Index. This is a more global measure than the average hourly wage number that most people talk about. It considers wages and salaries as well as benefits. Business labor expenses accelerated in the summer, but the rise was nothing major. The pick up was largely due to improving wage and salary gains, especially in the private sector. Public sector costs actually moderated. The wage pressures built in almost all industries and most professions. There has been a slow but steady acceleration in private sector wage costs but they are just now getting to levels we saw in the 2000s. That is, they are rising, but not yet high.

Consumers are becoming ebullient, at least if you believe the Conference Board. The Consumer Confidence Index rose sharply in October as both current conditions and expectations jumped. The index now stands at its highest level since December 2000. People are very upbeat about the labor market, as a rising percentage said it was easier to get a job right now. If there was a cautionary note in the report, it was that respondents were a little less confident about future employment conditions.

Home prices continue to surge. The S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index jumped again in August and the rise over the year broke 6%. Since slowing sharply in 2014, the increase in the index has rebounded, accelerating from a low of 4.1% in February 2015 to its August pace. Seattle is leading the way as home prices rose by a huge 13.2% since August 2016. The recovery in Las Vegas is accelerating and prices were up nearly 9% over the year. Over the month there were solid increases in most of the major metropolitan areas except Atlanta, which posted a modest decline.

The only negative number was the Paychex HIS Markit Small Business Index, which declined in October. This index has receded most of this year and is pointing to a job slowdown in the small business segment of the economy. That point was reinforced by the recent deceleration in wage growth.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The economy looks like it has accelerated from the sluggish 2% pace it was stuck in for quite a while. But the lack of labor may be keeping firms from hiring and that will likely limit the growth rate, at least until wage gains accelerate. Employment costs may be increasing but they are hardly surging, which is good for business but not for consumers. Given the rate of inflation, income is not rising fast enough to allow consumers to increase their spending pace. Also, the savings rate has fallen to a level that raises questions about the ability of consumers to maintain their current spending growth rate. Something has to change. Either wages need to rise faster or tax cuts have to be provided to lower and middle class families. Those cuts would accelerate spending, but only in the short-term. Longer-term, either wage gains will have to accelerate or the economy will slow. Tax cuts are so enticing because they cover up the fundamental issues and kick the problems down the road. For politicians, that is nirvana.

September Spending and Income

KEY DATA: Consumption: +1.0%; Disposable Income: +0.4%; Prices: +0.4%; Savings Rate: 3.1%

IN A NUTSHELL: “Consumers spent like crazy in September, but the declining savings rate is a warning sign that they may not be able to keep it up.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Last week, the third quarter GDP report was released and it indicated that September consumer spending was really strong. And it was. Indeed, the rise was the largest in eight years. But before we get too excited, keep in mind that much of the gain was due to a surge in vehicle sales. That was likely the result of many people replacing their hurricane-destroyed vehicles. Thus, we cannot take too much solace in the robust durable goods number. There was also a jump in nondurable goods demand, but much of that may have come from the sharp rise in energy costs that resulted from the temporary supply dislocations. Indeed, when the nondurable goods increase was adjusted for price changes, the increase was solid but nothing great. Finally, spending on services, the largest component, was also decent but nothing that would indicate the consumer has become irrationally exuberant. On the inflation front, prices were up sharply but when food and energy were removed, there was only a modest increase in consumer costs.

As for income, there was a solid increase as wage and salary gains rebounded from a minimal rise in August. Not surprisingly, given the surging stock market, dividend income was up sharply. Still, the gain in incomes did not come close to matching the jump in spending and the savings rate fell again. It is down to 3.1%.  

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: On the surface, this looks like a really strong report and the consumption rise did keep third quarter consumption from faltering significantly. But it is doubtful we will see a repeat of the huge vehicle sales going forward and that means household spending may slow in the coming months. But what really worries me is the steady decline in the savings rate. Since 2010, the savings rate has averaged 5.8%, but while it has bounced around, the trend is down. Lately, that decline has accelerated. In 2015, it averaged 6.1%, fell to 4.9% in 2016 and it looks like it will average about 3.7% this year. That would be the lowest rate since 2007, which was the last year before the Great Recession. On a monthly basis, the rate hit its lowest level since December 2007, when the last expansion ended. Looking at the past few recessions, the savings rate tends to decline until just before a downturn starts and that pattern has started. I am not saying a recession is coming. But consumer incomes are not rising fast enough to sustain solid growth and that is a warning sign of future trouble. However, this red flag is not likely to be viewed as particularly important by investors. They are focusing on the tax plan, which is still undergoing changes and will have to go through a lot more in committee. But the faltering savings rate could give some Fed members pause. At the least, it will provide further ammo for those who want to raise rates very slowly.

September Durable Goods Orders, Existing Home Sales, August Home Prices and Investment Tax Cut Commentary

KEY DATA: Durables: +2.2%; Excluding Aircraft: +0.9%; Capital Spending: +0.7%/ New Home Sales: +18.9%/ Home Prices: +0.7%; Over-Year: 6.6%

IN A NUTSHELL: “The expected September hurricane driven slowdown doesn’t appear to have occurred.”

WHAT IT MEANS: Normally, after a major catastrophe such as hurricanes, the economy slows. But soon afterward, as rebuilding begins, activity accelerates. Well, we may not have gotten that much of a softening in growth from the disasters. First of all, durable goods orders were up sharply in September. That was not a major surprise as demand had been solid and the impacts from the hurricanes were localized. While we did get a huge bump from aircraft orders, even excluding that sector, orders were still robust. There were increases in demand for communications equipment, fabricated metals and a modest rise in motor vehicles. But most importantly, the best measure of business capital spending, nondefense, nonaircraft orders, rose sharply. Over the year, business investment orders are up a very solid 3.8%. Backlogs increased again, another sign that economic conditions are improving.

If the strong durable goods numbers were not enough, we also saw today that the housing market is coming back with a vengeance. New home sales skyrocketed in September and it wasn’t just a huge rebound in the hurricane-battered South. Sales were up in every region and the percentage rise in the Northeast (33%) was even greater than in the South (26%). Before we get too bulled up about the housing market, we need to recognize that outsized gains are usually signs of special factors. So don’t be surprised if there is a pull back in October.

Housing prices continued their inexorable trek upwards in August. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s index surged over the month and is up quite strongly over the year. Regionally, the increases range from a low of 5% in the MidAtlantic area to 9.5% in the Pacific region. The rise in home prices has been slowly but steadily accelerating for three years now. While we aren’t near the double-digit pace posted in 2005, we are betting closer to nosebleed levels that raise concerns about affordability.

MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: Today’s data point to a solid third quarter GDP growth pace. It may not match the 3.1% posted in the second quarter, but it should be pretty good. But the real eye-opener was the private sector capital spending. It has been picking up rapidly and the increase over the year is accelerating. It looks like business investment on durable goods will be up this year by between 4% and as much as 5%, if the gains continue.

Commentary: The rising pace of private capital spending raises a major question: Do we really need tax cuts targeted to increase investment? If companies are already investing more without any certainty they will get a tax cut, why would one be needed? Economic activity, not tax policy, is driving capital spending and that is the way it should, especially since tax incentives for capital spending are incredibly inefficient and massively expensive. They reward businesses for doing what they would have done anyway given all firms that invest get the break, not just those incented to spend more.

Consider this example. Nonresidential investment will likely total about $2.5 trillion this year, in nominal dollars. Let’s assume there was going to be no increase next year but the tax changes cause investment to rise by a huge 10%, to $2.75 trillion. That’s great, so what’s the problem? The first $2.5 trillion in investment would have occurred anyway, yet those firms still receive a tax cut. That is, 91% of the tax break goes to firms that have done nothing different than they would have without the tax change! And I used a pretty large impact from the tax cuts. If it is smaller, which is likely to be the case, the percentage is even higher. A five percent increase would put the percentage at 95%. Depending on the size of the tax break, the government might actually be paying for most if not the entire rise in capital spending. To me, that makes absolutely no economic or fiscal sense. It is just a tax giveaway. With businesses already indicating by their actions that they are willing to spend more on capital goods, do we really need an investment tax cut? Comments welcomed.