I recently wrote about the state of the U.S. economy. Now that we are into April, J.P. Morgan Asset Management has provided new charts so we need to see what has changed.
In my last economic status I reported that the economy had lost $554 billion of economic output during the recent recession, but had already gained back $469 billion. The most recent figures are even better. The economy has recovered $571 billion of economic output since the recession ended. In other words, we have now regained all the economic output we "lost" during the recession. Even more encouraging, while the economy grew at an annual rate of 2.6% during the 3rd quarter of 2010, it accelerated to 3.1% during the 4th quarter. Keep in mind that the 20 year average for economic growth is 2.5%.
But all is not entirely well. Despite the recent drop in unemployment to 8.8%,
we are still short some 7 million jobs from before the recession.
It is important to note that we may see a rise in the unemployment rate, even if more jobs are gained in the economy. That is because unemployment rates only count people who are actively looking for work, and many unemployed workers have become so discouraged that they have simply given up trying to find a job. As the economy improves, they may decide to start looking again and including them may cause the unemployment rate to rise.
Perhaps the continued unemployment coupled with the still unrecovered housing market and the increased cost of gasoline at the pumps is keeping consumer sentiment quite pessimistic.
But as investors, we need to be able to filter through the emotion and look for the opportunities. Inflation has been low, but we are beginning to see it rise; especially in early indicators such as commodities. Low but rising inflation has occurred 7 times since 1971. While past performance is not indicative of future results, we can ascertain where the best asset categories may be for our investments. If history is destined to repeat itself, right now the best places to invest are in stocks and commodities.
One commodity I am personally avoiding right now is gold. At over $1400 per ounce, it has enjoyed quite a run up. The last major run up in gold was in the late 1970's when it peaked at $850 per ounce in January 1980 (inflation adjusted price was about $326; today's inflation adjusted price is about $250). Similar to today, the late 70's were a period of economic uncertainty. The reasons were all different, but the uncertainty was the same. The observation is simple, once the uncertainty leaves popular sentiment, the price of gold will fall. If you had purchased $850 gold in 1980, it would have taken approximately 27 years for you just to recover your investment. In inflation adjusted terms, you still have not caught up.
Moving forward, I believe we are in the midst of great investment opportunity, but it will take careful selection to take advantage of it.