Wells Fargo Chief Economist Gives Economic Outlook at Latest DABE Meeting

By Martin Lavelle

At the latest Detroit Association for Business Economics (DABE) meeting of the 2013–14 season, John Silvia, chief economist, Wells Fargo, presented his outlook on the economy.
Silvia said that he expects the annualized rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) growth to be 2.8% for the remainder of 2014, with the pace of growth accelerating slightly to 3.1% in 2015. According to Silvia’s outlook, the economy is expected to continue to experience steady private sector demand while government consumption and investment rebound with the elimination of some public sector headwinds (e.g., no government shutdown or prolonged debt ceiling debate). However, Silvia noted that one major risk to his forecast is the recent slow growth in labor productivity and real disposable income per capita. If labor productivity growth does not rebound to pre-recessionary rates, future real disposable income growth will be limited, hindering consumer demand, he explained.

In regard to employment, Silvia said he puts added importance on the weekly unemployment initial claims series, which continues to move downward; this trend bodes well for the labor market. Silvia noted he is also optimistic about future employment growth because the employed-to-population ratio has apparently bottomed out and the unemployment rate has generally declined over the past few years. Labor market improvements should help the housing market, which is expected to improve; more specifically, housing starts are anticipated to hit their long-run trend of 1.5 million units in 2018, according to Silvia’s outlook.
Silvia said that he does not expect inflation to pose a threat to the Federal Reserve’s current stance of expansionary monetary policy; he noted that “headline” inflation as measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index is not expected to reach the Federal Reserve’s price stability target of 2.0% until next year. However, Silvia pointed out that since the beginning of the deceleration of the current monetary stimulus program, the yield curve has shifted up as medium- and long-term interest rates (including mortgage rates) have increased. /1 This shift in the yield curve has slowed the housing market’s rebound. In addition, Silvia said he is worried that the end of the expansion in the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet will coincide with a drop in stock prices, which would hurt investment.

In closing, Silvia highlighted some short- and long-run fiscal issues that remain risks to his outlook. In the short run, increases in the number of student loan delinquencies are concerning as household formation and consumption may be delayed because of high student debt levels, Silvia said. Additionally, the current decision to not address entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, poses long-run risks to the country’s economic growth, he argued.
Silvia’s presentation is available here. 2014 05 13 Detroit NABE

/1 A yield curve is the line plotting the yields (or interest rates) of assets of the same credit quality but with different maturity dates at a certain point in time. These assets (e.g., U.S. Treasury securities) typically yield incrementally more at longer maturities.