A Real Economic Recovery Has Begun – Finally!

By | April 24, 2014

shutterstock_96365069_graph1I was sitting in my Northeast Ohio office in 1986 when the building began to shake. I ran out into a hallway where a group of my alarmed coworkers had gathered.

“What was that?” someone asked.

“I’m not sure because I’ve never experienced one before, but I think we just had an earthquake”, I said.

No one agreed with me, although no other explanations were offered. Just then an older engineer, who had once lived in California, came flying around the corner and enthusiastically asked, “Hey, did you feel that earthquake?”

No one believed it was an earthquake because they didn’t know what an earthquake felt like. I believe that an actual economic recovery has started, but people are skeptical because they either don’t know or have forgotten what a real recovery looks like.

Now this is totally understandable when you consider that the last “real recession” (I am dismissing the mild recession of 2001-2002) was in the early 90’s, which means the last “real” recovery occurred over 20 years ago.

I believe a real economic recovery started around October of last year. It was temporarily derailed by the harsh “Winter of 2013-2014”, but is now resuming. If fact the bad weather may have actually provided momentum to the recovery, similar to bobsledders rocking the sled backwards before pushing it forward.

There is a business district near my home that was devastated by the Great Recession. It started showing some evidence of life two years ago, but now there are some very obvious signs of recovery:

  • There are four major construction projects in process on the outskirts of the affected region. There is a repair facility to support the fracking industry. There are two new office buildings, one medical and one professional. The other project is a full-service hotel. There is still more development planned and a nearby road is being expanded to support it.

  • The business plaza in the center of the district is being totally remodeled. The owner obviously believes he will have new tenants soon. The office complex across the street is now at full occupancy, the first time in five years.

  • There is new “high-priced” housing construction in the suburb just west of the area. A thriving housing market existed there before the recession, but no new houses had been constructed in at least four years.

And those “green shoots” that everyone has been seeking for the last five years are suddenly appearing everywhere. Hotel usage is up, unemployment claims are down, manufacturing keeps improving, the energy sector has been revived. Several economic indicators have begun flashing “green”. Yes, this is what the beginning of a real recovery looks like. It’s just taken forever to get here and we have been disappointed so many times in the past that we are not convinced.

There are two sectors lagging the recovery: Housing and Employment. Housing has lagged the recovery from the beginning because it was the last to crash, the worst to crash, and it hit bottom after the recession had officially ended.   Therefore its recovery started late and it has been slow. This was a different type of recession and this is a different type of recovery. Usually housing leads us out of a recovery, this time it will lag, but not prevent, it from happening. Credit is still tight, but once the financial markets fully heal and the job market improves, housing will grow just fine.

The unemployment rate is headed down. It is at 6.7%, 80 basis points lower than a year ago. Normally this would be great news if it wasn’t for the drop in the labor participation rate. The Great Recession created significant structural unemployment due to the high numbers of older workers with non-transferable skills who lost their jobs. These people are going to have trouble finding work even in a recovery. This makes the unemployment situation difficult to gauge. I just overheard two business owners (one in manufacturing, one in service) bemoaning the fact that they both were having problems hiring enough workers. With the increase in business activity, job growth has to follow soon.

The conventional wisdom is that the recovery is still lethargic. This week a Wall Street Journal headline proclaimed: “Sluggish Recovery Proves Resilient”. Only 26% of economists in the latest WSJ poll believe GDP will hit 3.5% or higher in either the Q3 or Q4. The FTR forecast is in line with this thinking, with Q3 and Q4 at 3.1%.But I believe the “recovery” train has left the station and will only pick up steam the rest of the year. If this is true, growth will be between 3.5% and 4.0% in Q3 and Q4. It would start to look like a real recovery at long last.

The question that everyone has been asking for the last several years is: How long is it going to take to recover from a recession this severe? The answer: This long.

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About Don Ake

Don has more than 20 years of experience in the transportation industry, including 16 years with industry supplier Hendrickson International. Don has a very strong forecasting and market analysis background. While at Hendrickson Don developed forecasting models, methods and processes to accurately forecast Truck and Trailer builds and product demand. Don wrote an industry economic newsletter and gained a reputation as a top industry analyst. His industry supplier background provides a "customer perspective" now that he is with FTR.