Looking for a sign of sunnier days when a storm is raging is human nature. Homo economicus is an optimistic creature at heart, although that optimism is now being put to the test.
On first glance at today’s update on new orders for durable goods, there’s reason to hope if only because the flow of blood appears to be slowing. As expected, new orders fell last month—again. The good news, if we can call it that, is that the 2.7% decline constitutes improvement next to November’s 3.7% fall or October’s crushing 8.5% loss.
A sign that the worst is behind us? A tempting notion, although a closer look suggests that such thinking is still premature. One reason is that looking at new orders excluding the government’s defense spending reveals a much steeper decline last month: -3.6%., and that’s deeper than November’s 1.7% loss for new durable goods orders ex-defense. The implication: spending plans among consumers and businesses is still weak and getting weaker. Meanwhile, looking at the year-over-year change in the broad measure of durable goods orders reveals a far uglier scenario, and one that appears to be deepening. Indeed, new orders were off by more than 20% last year, the lowest annual pace since 2001.
Looking again on the bright side, the government continues to mount a rescue operation, with a new round of help coming from Congress as it attempts to juice the economy again. The fiscal aid, combined with the ongoing monetary stimulus via exceedingly low interest rates will show results. But not yet, and probably not for several months at the earliest before even the faintest signs of stabilization appear. In the meantime, we can still dream of better days.