18 August 2009

The End is Nigh?

What is wrong with this picture?

This is the Bank of England's projection for economic growth taken from the August Inflation Report published last week. At first sight it would appear to be good news. It shows a strong recovery from recession. Here we have a V shaped and not a U shaped or W shaped or even an L shaped recession. So what is the problem?

The first problem is that in the press conference, Mervyn King , the bank's governor, warned of a fragile recovery, "The pace of recovery over the next few years is highly uncertain." (See the BBC) The fan chart, on the other hand sees growth back to normal levels next year.

The next problem is interpreting the chart. This shows the annual growth rate, or more accurately, the 4 quarter growth rate. So when the central projection crosses the zero, as it does early in 2010, then the growth rate over the last four quarters is zero; ie the economy is the same size as it was in early 2009.

(Another difficulty is that it looks like the ONS data is only available up to the first quarter of 2009, but from the shape it is obvious that the latest data (Q2 2009) is included. See here) Reading off from the chart, annual GDP reaches about 1% at the end of Q1 2010.

This is where it gets interesting. GDP fell by 0.8% in the second quarter of 2009. So to get to 1% in March next year, the economy must grow by over 1.8% over the next three quarters, equivalent to an annual growth rate of 2.4%. So either the economy grows at its trend rate from now on, or it grows faster than its trend rate in the early months of 2010.

I know that the monetary policy committee is stuffed with people who know more about economics than I ever will. But I can't see how this projection is possible.

If there is a choice between an optimistic chart and a pessimistic governor, I'm with the governor.

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