Markets & Economy

Consumer spending is hot — the reason? Look overseas

Nobody wants to invest in new productive capacity because China is overdoing it for the whole world
  • The helicopter discussion is going to matter.
  • The BOJ has been hosing all of this cash without evident effect (except that we can’t know how ugly Japan would be without it), and Japan will soon have to go to the next ditch. If not the last, getting there.
  • As media everywhere have latched on, annualized 2nd quarter U.S. GDP grew by only half of estimates only 48 hours old -- 1.2 percent.
  • The even deeper surprise: consumer spending is still hot, in the second quarter rising to 4.2 percent annualized from 3-percent-ish in prior quarters. The GDP drag is caused by sick investment of all kinds, not just transient inventory and trade adjustments.
  • That picture feels like unsustainable hollowing-out. Nobody wants to invest in new productive capacity because China is overdoing it for the whole world.

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If it was Silly Season last week, it’s back to deadly serious now -- complete with substantial surprises after a sleepy summer Friday. All of us thought the big deal on Friday would be the Bank of Japan (BOJ) and new stimulus. Would the BOJ go helicopter? Not that it is not already, but there is a technical argument about helicopter vs. standard means of printing money. The BOJ element The BOJ did come through, but in more timid fashion than the most timid estimates. The BOJ will increase its annual purchases of Exchange Traded Funds from 3.3 trillion yen to 6 trillion. Thanks to the yen conveniently trading just above 100/$, to convert 6 trillion yen to dollars, just drop the last two zeros off the back of trillion, and you’ve got $60 billion, the new increase less than half of that. Now, $60 billion ain’t small sushi in an economy less than one-third the size of ours (ours grows; theirs hasn’t in 20 years). But, the BOJ’s other stimulus is buying Japanese gove...