Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Real Personal Income is Higher than Ever

[all of the statistics below are seasonally adjusted by the BEA or BLS]

Today the Commerce Department released its estimate of November nominal personal income, 12.1638 trillion dollars (at annual rates).

The press is emphasizing that the figure is 0.2 percent less than in October. But let's not forget that the BLS reported that consumer prices were down 1.7% over the same time frame. That means a real personal income INCREASE of 1.5% in just one month!

We can argue about how exactly to deflate, but no resolution of that argument is going to change this 1.5% gain into a measure that screams disaster.

I'm not sure why the Commerce Department does not report real personal income, although at the bottom of its report it does show real disposable personal income, which was 1.0 percent HIGHER in November than in October. That's their calculation -- not mine -- so don't blame me from ruining your "economic disaster" parade.

Today's Commerce Department shows data back to April: over that time frame, personal income deflated by CPI was highest in November. I am pretty sure that makes November higher than ever!

If you like things in per capita terms, November real personal income (at a monthly rate) was $3311.61 per person. That's the second highest ever, with the first highest being $3311.79 per person in May. That's right, we missed the real per-capita record by 18 CENTS per person. Enough said!

The experts are saying that real GDP (at quarterly rates) will be more than 1 percent lower Q4 than Q3. Are any experts reading this? Can they explain to us why they have that expectation, given that October real personal income (quarterly rate) EXCEEDED the Q3 real personal income by 1.2 percent and November EXCEEDED it by 2.8 percent? Are you predicting that real personal income will fall more than 10% in just one month, in order to bring the Q4 average down that far? Or are you predicting a huge departure between the growth rates of real personal income and real GDP?

I am admittedly an amateur at high frequency forecasting (it has less to do with the basic economic forces I have been emphasizing, which may take a couple of quarters to work out), but there are enough significant inconsistencies with the experts' forecasts that I have to issue my own:
  • Q4 real (and seasonally adjusted) personal consumption expenditure will fall less Q3-Q4 than it did Q2-Q3.
  • Q4 real (and seasonally adjusted) GDP will fall less than 1.0% (that is: less than 4.0% at annual rates) Q3-Q4, and may rise.
  • Q4 labor productivity will be higher than Q3's (that is, productivity growth Q3-Q4 will not be negative).

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