Jim Hamilton suggests you look at GDP revision in a longer term. The bottom line is: don’t be fooled by the recent 0.9% Q1 GDP number. The graph below shows it all.
I’d like to remind readers that GDP is a series subject to a lot of revisions (and in any case, NBER looks at a lot of other series). To that end, I depict below what we thought GDP was doing at the end of May 2001 , .
Figure 2: Real GDP (Ch.2000$, SAAR), annualized quarter-on-quarter growth rates from May 2008 release (blue), from May 2001 release (red), from July 2001 release (green). NBER defined recession highlighted gray. Source: BEA via FRED II, ALFRED, NBER, and author’s calculations.Note that even at the end of July 2001, we still thought 2001Q1 growth was positive, and thought the same of 2001Q2 as well… So I’m more in agreement with Jeff Frankel than with Carpe Diem.The reason why many suspected a QI turning point in the first place is employment, which is virtually as important an indicator to the NBER BCDC as is GDP. Jobs have been lost each month since January. Total hours worked is my personal favorite, because in addition to employment it captures the length of the workweek, which firms tend to cut before they lay off workers. …
To fully appreciate the impact that soaring oil prices have had on the nation's beleaguered airline industry, consider that U.S. carriers will likely spend $60 billion on jet fuel this year—nearly four times what they paid in 2000. Because of the spike in fuel costs, airlines now lose roughly $60 on every round-trip passenger, a slow bleed that puts the industry on pace to lose $7.2 billion this year, the largest yearly loss ever.
Not surprisingly, Wall Street has become so dour about the industry's prospects—can you say federal bailout?—that the combined market capitalization for the six major legacy carriers and Southwest Airlines has fallen to just over $17 billion. That's about what ExxonMobil (XOM) books in revenues every two weeks. "The U.S. airline industry, as it is constituted today, was not built for $125-per-barrel oil," Gerard Arpey, the chief executive of American Airlines parent AMR (AMR), told shareholders on May 21.
It is hard to say that we entered a recession in the first quarter, without a single negative growth quarter, let alone two of them. Even so, three minor qualifications to that 0.9% remain:
1) The number will be revised again, and could move in either direction.
2) A bit of the measured growth consisted of an increased rate of inventory investment, which was almost certainly not desired by firms and is likely to reverse in the 2nd quarter
3) As Martin Feldstein has pointed out, the QI growth number is defined as the change for the quarter as a whole relative to QIV of 2007; within QI, the information currently available suggests that GDP fell from January to February to March.
The economy is a four-engine airplane flying at stall speed, skimming along the top of the waves without yet going down. Real gross domestic purchases increased only 0.1 percent in the first quarter. But exports provided an important source of demand for US products, and are likely to remain a positive engine of growth in the future. The same is true of the fiscal policy engine, as consumers receive and spend their tax cuts in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. On the other wing, the investment engine has been knocked out; inventory investment is likely to fall and residential construction will remain negative for sometime. The big question mark is the consumption engine. Is the long-spending American household taking a hard look at its diminished net worth and taking steps to raise its saving rate above the very low levels of recent years?
We are already clearly in a “growth recession…