While the fiscal-cliff tax hike still hangs like the recessionary sword of Damocles over the economy, the economic stats for the month of July do not show it. In fact, key data points suggest there is no double-dip recession. All in all, it’s still an anemic 2 percent economy -- the worst recovery in modern times dating back to 1947. But at least for the sake of the country, there is no recession in sight for now.
The 163,000 jobs gain for July -- even with a lot of weakness inside the report -- was a move away from recession. Retail sales had dropped for three-straight months, which made a recession look perilously close. But the July number came back at 0.8 percent. And today’s industrial-production report also surprised on the upside, with a manufacturing gain of 0.5 percent. That sums to 1.7 percent annually over the last three months and 5 percent over the past year. Prior to these releases, the ISM reports hovered around 50, which does suggest ongoing weakness. But it’s not yet a true recession signal.
Finally, the consumer price report for July shows zero inflation for the second straight month. The CPI is actually rising only 1.4 percent over the past year. Energy prices have fallen 22 percent annually over the past three months while food prices are up only 1.1 percent during that period. The Midwestern drought could drive up the food-price component, but it looks like it will be a manageable event -- not a catastrophe.
Now, a roughly 2 percent economic growth rate is only half the growth we ought to be having. In fact, Mitt Romney’s economic plan targets 4 percent growth. And supply-side tax cuts, spending restraint, lighter regulation, and a stable dollar could surely revive the animal spirits to get us back to that 4 percent number.
But that’s for the campaign trail. All I’m saying here is that the July economy does not show recession. For the sake of the country, that’s a good thing. But surely we can do better.
A lot better.