Although the Recent Weakness in Bank Credit Growth May Not Be a Concern to Others, It Is to Me
Goldman’s Mr. Hill hypothesized that the recent weakness in bank C&I loan growth was due to the re-opening of the bond markets to oil and gas industry borrowers. According to Mr. Hill, when energy prices fell in 2015 and 2016 (obviously due to the anticipation of a Trump administration that would promote oil/gas exploration and the elimination of environmental regulations), oil and gas producers had to tap their bank lines of credit because bond-market lenders became more wary. According to Mr. Hill, then, the recent weakness in bank C&I loan growth is largely attributable to a more receptive bond market toward oil and gas industry borrowers and does not signal an imminent slowdown in U.S real GDP growth from its blistering Q4:2016 annualized pace of 2.1%.
On January 17, I published a commentary entitled “2017 – Shades of 1937”. In the commentary, I wrote: “Based on the recent slowdown in thin-air credit growth, I believe that a significant slowdown in the growth of nominal and real U.S. domestic demand will commence in the first quarter of 2017.” Perhaps “significant” was too strong an adjective, but I hold by my prediction of a slowdown in the growth of real domestic demand. Despite relatively strong employment gains in January and February and hinted at by the March ADP employment guesstimate, real GDP growth in Q1:2017 appears to have come in at an even weaker pace than that of the paltry 2.1% annualized in Q4:2016. (Perhaps the depths of the productivity labor pool are being plumbed, requiring a larger quantity of workers to get a given amount of output produced.) The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s GDPNow Q1:2017 real GDP annualized growth estimate as of April 4 is 1.2%. Of course, this does not yet incorporate March data. Real personal consumption, which has accounted for about 68% of total real GDP in recent years, is coming in weak based on January and February readings. If the March level of real personal consumption were to be unchanged from the February level, Q1:2017 real personal consumption will have grown at an annualized pace of 0.3% -- not 3.0%, but 0.3%. In order for Q1:2017 real personal consumption expenditures to grow at the 3.5% annualized pace of Q4:2016, March real personal consumption would have to grow at annualized rate of 9.75% vs. February. How likely is this given that from January 2010 through February 2017 there have been only two month when real consumption expenditures grew by at least 9% annualized month-to-month? The median month-to-month annualized growth in real personal consumption from January 2010 through February 2017 has been 2.3%. If March real personal consumption were to grow at an annualized 2.3%, this would imply Q1:2017 real personal consumption growth of only 1.1%. What is arguing against a strong reading of Q1:2017 real personal consumption growth is the annualized 17.1% Q1:2017 contraction in unit sales of light motor vehicles, the largest quarterly contraction since the 30.2% contraction in Q4:2009, the quarter after the federal “cash-for-clunkers” program that boosted motor vehicle sales.