ATLANTA–A maturing business cycle, the ongoing global slowdown, and the U.S.-China trade spat are fostering a deteriorating business investment climate, and a slowdown in job growth has made consumers wary of spending, according to Rajeev Dhawan of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.
“Investments are always a risky bet. And as the amount of uncertainty rises, investment spending is the first to suffer,” Dhawan wrote in his “Forecast of the Nation,” released today (Nov. 20, 2019).
The Global Economic Policy Uncertainty Index, at its highest level since 1997, has been extremely elevated for the past 18 months. Dhawan attributes the uncertainty in no small part to the imposition of tariffs by the world’s two largest trading partners, the U.S. and China, on each other’s exports.
“Although there are other trade skirmishes [between Japan and Korea, the ongoing Brexit saga, the Catalonia secession in Spain, and even the September missile attack on Saudi oil facilities] the U.S.-China trade spat takes center stage.”
The forecaster posits that as management of U.S.-based global companies consider moving factories out of China and undoing supply chains they spent decades establishing, “their primary focus is on the vexing issue of building new supply chains and not on expanding existing business capacity, i.e. hiring.”
The fallout is readily apparent in investment growth rates. Business investment declined 3.0 percent in the third quarter of 2019, after dropping 1.0 in the previous quarter, which was a dramatic contrast to the first half of 2018, when investment grew 8.4 percent following the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Two other factors, or shocks, contributed to weak investment – reduced fracking investment due to falling oil prices, and the impact of the March 2019 grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX on high tech manufacturing. Looking forward, the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Index is below 50, signaling future contraction in the industrial sector.
As for consumer confidence, a 10-point market drop since Aug. 2019 could signal a consumption growth slowdown. The last three Federal Reserve rate cuts should have boosted consumption by lowering interest rates for car loans and on new or refinanced mortgages. However, Oct. 2019 vehicle sales of 16.5 million units were much lower than the average 17.0 million units sold the previous three months.
Damage from the last few quarters of deficient investment growth will be evident in subpar GDP growth, less than 1.5 percent on average in the coming quarters. And Dhawan characterizes business investment equipment growth as “nonexistent” until Boeing’s woes end in mid-2020.
“As growth drops well below the 1.8 percent growth potential, the Fed will be forced to cut rates several times in early 2020, most likely during the March and June meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee,” Dhawan said.
Even with these cuts, Dhawan anticipates GDP growth to drop to 2.3 percent in 2019, then decline to 1.5 percent in 2020 and improve to 1.8 percent in 2021.
“The election will be over by 2021, hopefully, and no matter who is in the White House, businesses can plan again with somewhat more certainty than at present,” Dhawan said.
Highlights from the Economic Forecasting Center’s National Report
- Overall GDP growth will be 2.3 percent in 2019, 1.5 percent in 2020 and 1.8 percent in 2021.
- Investment growth will be 2.2 percent in 2019, 0.3 percent in 2020 and 2.5 percent in 2021. Monthly job gains will be 165,300 in 2019, drop to 90,600 in 2020 and rise to 94,700 in 2021.
- Housing starts will average 1.256 million in 2019, 1.215 million in 2020 and 1.220 million in 2021. Vehicle sales will average 16.9 million in 2019, 15.8 million in 2020 and 15.5 million in 2021.
- The 10-year bond rate will average 2.1 percent in 2019 and 2020, then rise to 2.7 percent in 2021.
ATLANTA–Trade tensions, a reduction in business investment and an earlier than usual presidential election swoon are contributing to a lowered growth path for 2020-21, according to Rajeev Dhawan of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.
“Economic growth will take an oscillatory path, known as transition economics, to reach this lower level,” Dhawan wrote in his “Forecast of the Nation,” released Aug. 28, 2019.
“There is never a single reason for a downgrade, but the chief culprit for this one and its zigzag is the evolution of business investment from mid-2018 until now,” Dhawan said. “Investment contractions are a bad sign for future growth unless there are mitigating circumstances.”
One such mitigating circumstance affecting equipment investment was the March grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX, which has spread downstream to suppliers such as General Electric (engines) and numerous parts makers across the country.
“This investment category will rebound at some point, but don’t count on help from those parked planes before early next year,” Dhawan said.
Also in retreat: investment spending on structures (commercial buildings, mining and fracking wells) dropped 10.6 percent in the second quarter of the year.
“The commercial sector seems to be pulling back on its building desire, despite good consumer spending,” Dhawan said. “The reason is the future seems more uncertain today than a year ago, when tariffs were a negotiating ploy and not a reality, as they are now.”
As for fracking, low oil prices are keeping well below the breakeven price per barrel, which Dhawan attributes to lowered demand from China.
“It seems unlikely that U.S.-Chinese trade tensions will ratchet down anytime soon,” he said. “And corporations, with their globally integrated supply chains, are spooked by the tit-for-tat tariff game. Investment is not expected to rebound to its mid-2018 high following the December 2017 tax cuts.”
Dhawan expects the Federal Reserve will cut rates in September, and then pause to observe concrete evidence of the anticipated growth slowdown. He then expects the Fed will decrease rates again in December, leading to a limited boost in home refinancing activity.
“A sharp drop in the 10-year bond rate since the Fed’s rate cut of July 31 is mostly due to global capital seeking a safe haven,” Dhawan said. “What cannot be forecast is when this fear-motivated flight to safety will end. If the move to 10-year bonds persists it will further depress the growth trajectory and keep the yield curve inverted longer, which would require deeper (emergency) rate cuts by the Fed.”
Highlights from the Economic Forecasting Center’s National Report
- Overall GDP growth will be 2.3 percent in 2019, 1.7 percent in 2020 and 2.0 percent in 2021.
- Investment growth will be 2.9 percent in 2019, 1.7 percent in 2020 and then rise to 3.2 percent in 2021. Monthly job gains will moderate to 153,000 in 2019, drop to 118,600 in 2020 and gain 116,900 new monthly jobs in 2021.
- Housing starts will average 1.225 million in 2019, 1.228 million in 2020 and then increase to 1.265 million in 2021. Vehicle sales will average 16.7 million in 2019, 15.9 million in 2020 and 16.0 million in 2021.
- The 10-year bond rate will average 2.1 percent in 2019, 2.2 percent in 2020 and rise to 2.5 percent in 2021.
- percent in 2019, decline 6.0 percent in 2020 and fall another 3.0 percent in 2021.
ATLANTA–Stuttering global growth and escalating trade tiffs that are affecting national economic prospects are also being felt in Georgia across many employment sectors, according to Rajeev Dhawan of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business.
In his quarterly “Forecast of Georgia and Atlanta,” Dhawan wrote that he expects two Federal Reserve rate cuts before 2019 ends, asking, “Will these extra cuts help us negate the fallout from our trade spats? And what relief will it provide at the state and Atlanta metro levels?”
The forecaster’s answer to these questions is mixed. Yes, lower rates should help with interest-sensitive sectors such as home refinancing, vehicle sales and small business loans.
“But, these rate cuts cannot overcome the hesitation of big corporations to undertake the capital expansions that determine future job growth,” said Dhawan in the report released Aug. 28, 2019. “These firms are global in scope and dependent on external markets for a big proportion of their revenues.”
A case in point is Delta Air Lines. The state’s largest corporate employer collects 30 percent of its passenger revenue from international operations. In the second quarter of 2019, its global sector grew by 5.2 percent, compared to 8.7 percent for the same period in 2018.
The Port of Savannah, another transportation crown jewel, is largely responsible for driving the economic growth of the Savannah metro area. In mid-2018, Savannah’s job growth was 2.7 percent, outpacing the state’s job growth rate of 1.9 percent when global trade volumes were good. But by June 2019, Savannah’s growth rate dropped to 1.2 percent, putting it below the state’s 1.7 percent growth as the global economy cooled.
“Globally connected sectors and areas grow higher than average when the world economy is booming, but they decelerate sharply when the tide turns,” Dhawan said.
The global health of Fortune 500 companies headquartered in Georgia determines the hiring of managerial jobs in Atlanta, which has a multiplier effect on downstream sectors.
Domestic demand sectors are performing better than globally connected ones, particularly hospitality (historically high occupancy rates), education (growing due to population growth), healthcare (overall population growth and aging) and construction (new hotel, office and apartment developments).
“Fed rate cuts will alleviate the pain somewhat, and relatively clear skies will emerge, but without a rainbow,” said Dhawan.
Highlights from the Economic Forecasting Center’s Report for Georgia and Atlanta
- Georgia employment will add 65,200 jobs (11,400 premium jobs) in 2019, gain 53,500 jobs (9,400 premium) in 2020 and increase by 48,200 (9,700 premium) in 2021.
- Nominal personal income will grow 4.3 percent in 2019, then increase by a better 5.1 percent in 2020 and 2021.
- Atlanta will add 45,300 jobs (7,900 premium positions) in 2019, moderate to 37,900 jobs (7,200 premium) in 2020 and 35,600 jobs (7,300 premium) in 2021.
- Atlanta housing permitting activity will fall 18.9