After spending $trillions one would have hoped to see something more than an expected GDP revision of 2.8%. Looking ahead MarketWatch is asking Do weaker data show recovery is stalling?

Last week, a “reality check” rippled through the markets following weak data on housing starts and industrial production, said Nigel Gault and Brian Bethune, U.S. economists for IHS Global Insight. They expect further “mixed and somewhat ambiguous” reports in the coming week, but, on whole, they say “the evidence is still positive and continues to point to a nascent recovery” that will need “strong policy support” for some time.

Housing

Even four years after the peak, the state of the housing market remains central to the medium-term outlook.

Construction, sales and prices picked up over recent months after hitting generational lows, boosted in part by federal policies and in part by improvement in some of the fundamentals. But the weakening in the October data ahead of the anticipated expiration of the federal home-buying subsidy has put the strength of those fundamentals to the test.

The home-buyer tax credit, of course, has now been extended and even expanded. But buyers and builders didn’t know that in October.

Last week, we found out that builders cut back on permits and starts on single-family homes in October, in anticipation that the tax credit would expire on Nov. 30.

GDP revisions

The other big story for the week could be the revision to third-quarter growth figures. Last month, the Commerce Department said real gross domestic product grew at a 3.5% annualized rate, the first gain in a year. On Tuesday, that figure is likely to be revised to about 2.8%.

The largest source of revisions will come from nonresidential construction spending and net exports. Spending on nonresidential structures was weaker than first thought, while imports were stronger than believed, suggesting that more of the gains from increased sales in the third quarter accrued to foreign producers, rather than domestic companies. Inventories will be revised lower.

“Despite the likely downward revision, we still believe that the third quarter will prove to be the first quarter of recovery and that it demonstrates a decisive turn in the economy,” wrote economists for Barclays Capital.

Economists see the economy growing at a pace just above its long-term trend. They expect GDP to grow 2.5% in the fourth quarter, 3% in the first quarter of 2010 and 3.5% in the second quarter. That’s a far cry from the 6% growth seen in typical V-shaped recoveries, but it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Of course, those are just forecasts. No one really knows for sure how the economy will do over the next 12 to 18 months.

MarketWatch asked the right question but the economists quoted came to the wrong conclusion.

100% of this so-called “Nascent Recovery” is due to government stimulus, housing credits, cash for-clunkers, and other wasteful spending.

Extending the home tax credit was exactly the wrong thing to do. It adds to the deficit and does little but push demand forward and/or give money to people who were going to buy a home anyway.

When it comes to 3.5% GDP in the second quarter of 2010, I will take the under. Of course I can easily be wrong depending on how much deeper in the hole Congress is willing to go.

One thing I am sure of is this: A recovery so fragile that it is 100% dependent on “strong policy support” that adds to the national debt, does little more than push demand forward, and does next to nothing for new job creation or family formation is not a “recovery” of any kind, it’s a mirage.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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