An educational outlook

I try to read First Trust’s Monday Morning Outlook every week. Today’s was especially good. Here’s a highlight:

The good reason for slow economic growth is that government statisticians are having a hard time measuring true output. Productivity and GDP growth are not as slow as the official numbers say. For example, when people download free apps to improve their communication and travel, that isn’t measured in GDP, yet our standard of living is clearly higher.

One thing we are confident about is that quantitative easing (QE) hasn’t made a dime’s worth of difference. Although it stuffed the banking system chock full of idle excess reserves, new figures from the government show weaker economic growth in 2012-13, while the Fed was engaged in expansive QE3, and then slightly faster growth in 2014, when the Fed was tapering and then ending QE.

When we put all this together, the picture is reasonably clear. The economy has been in recovery for six years and the unemployment rate has finally fallen to a level even the Fed thinks is close to full employment. Unemployment claims have been below 300,000 for twenty-one straight weeks, and at less than 0.2% of total jobs are at historical lows.

So, even though growth remains slow, it’s hard to argue rates should stay at zero. While some investors fear rate hikes, we see them as ratifying the strides the economy has made in the past several years. Surely, this is no economic boom like 1980s or 1990s. But even a modestly growing economy should have short-term rates higher than zero.

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