We Just Went Through the Worst Month Since the Great Recession

We Just Went Through the Worst Month Since the Great Recession

The Fiscal Times/iStockphoto
By Yuval Rosenberg

We already knew the economy really struggled over the first few months of 2015, with March being especially rough. A new report from economists at Macroeconomic Advisers shows just how bad a month it really was.

The forecasting firm, which tracks economic progress on a monthly basis rather than just a quarterly one, now says that GDP fell 1 percent in March. “This was the largest decline since December 2008, when the U.S. economy was in the throes of recession,” its update notes.

The Commerce Department initially estimated that GDP grew at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.2 percent in the first quarter. An updated report, due May 29, is now expected to show that the economy actually shrank over the first three months of the year. J.P. Morgan economists have lowered their tracking estimate of first-quarter GDP from -0.8 percent to -1.1 percent based on data released over the last two days.

Related: Why So Many Americans Are Trapped in ‘Deep Poverty’

As we’ve written before, though, the downturn isn’t necessarily reason to worry about the fundamental health of the economy, or at least it shouldn’t stoke fears that we’re diving into another recession. As the Macroeconomic Advisers report explains, “A sharp decline in net exports more than accounted for the decline in monthly GDP, as resolution to the West Coast port dispute led to a surge in imports to well above the recent trend. As a result, they write, they believe the one-month plunge “overstates the underlying weakness in the economy.”

That’s not to say the economy is particularly strong, either. Both Macroeconomic Advisers and J.P. Morgan now forecast second-quarter GDP growth to come in at a tepid 2 percent annualized rate.

Takedown of the Day: Ezra Klein on Paul Ryan's Legacy of Debt

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill in Washington
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Vox’s Ezra Klein says that retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan’s legacy can be summed up in one number: $343 billion. “That’s the increase between the deficit for fiscal year 2015 and fiscal year 2018— that is, the difference between the fiscal year before Ryan became speaker of the House and the fiscal year in which he retired.”

Klein writes that Ryan’s choices while in office — especially the 2017 tax cuts and the $1.3 trillion spending bill he helped pass and the expansion of the earned income tax credit he talked up but never acted on — should be what define his legacy:

“[N]ow, as Ryan prepares to leave Congress, it is clear that his critics were correct and a credulous Washington press corps — including me — that took him at his word was wrong. In the trillions of long-term debt he racked up as speaker, in the anti-poverty proposals he promised but never passed, and in the many lies he told to sell unpopular policies, Ryan proved as much a practitioner of post-truth politics as Donald Trump. …

“Ultimately, Ryan put himself forward as a test of a simple, but important, proposition: Is fiscal responsibility something Republicans believe in or something they simply weaponize against Democrats to win back power so they can pass tax cuts and defense spending? Over the past three years, he provided a clear answer. That is his legacy, and it will haunt his successors.”

Read Klein’s full piece here.

Number of the Day: $300 Million

White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney speaks about the budget at the White House in Washington
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
By The Fiscal Times Staff

Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, wants the agency to be known as the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, the name under which it was established by Title X of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law. Mulvaney even had new signage put up in the lobby of the bureau. But the rebranding could cost the banks and other financial businesses regulated by the bureau more than $300 million, according to an internal agency analysis reported by The Hill’s Sylvan Lane. The costs would arise from having to update internal databases, regulatory filings and disclosure forms with the new name. The rebranding would cost the agency itself between $9 million and $19 million, the analysis estimated. Lane adds that it’s not clear whether Kathy Kraninger, President Trump’s nominee to serve as the bureau’s full-time director, would follow through on Mulvaney’s name change once she is confirmed by the Senate.

Why Trump's Tariffs Are Just a Drop in the Bucket

A Hanjin Shipping Co ship is seen stranded outside the Port of Long Beach, California, September 8, 2016. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo
© Lucy Nicholson / Reuters
By Michael Rainey

President Trump said this week that tariff increases by his administration are producing "billions of dollars" in revenues, thereby improving the country’s fiscal situation. But CNBC’s John Schoen points out that while tariff revenues are indeed higher by several billion dollars this year, the total revenue is a drop in the bucket compared to the sheer size of government outlays and receipts – and the growing annual deficit. 

Bank Profits Hit New Record Thanks to 2017 Tax Law

iStockphoto/The Fiscal Times
By Yuval Rosenberg

Bank profits reached a record $62 billion in the third quarter, up $14 billion, or 29.3 percent, from the same period last year, according to data from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The FDIC said that about half of the increase in net income was attributable to last year’s tax cuts. The FDIC estimated that, with the effective tax rates from before the new law, bank profits for the quarter would have risen by about 14 percent, to $54.6 billion.