Consumers’ moods reflect the current and anticipated domestic economy and world events. The actual levels of employment opportunities, paychecks and cost-of-living can either free consumers to pursue their wants or constrain them to hunker down. Threats from abroad can worry consumers about citizens’ safety and the nation’s ability to thrive. Since consumers take their moods with them into the voting booths, it is worth exploring how moods will have been shaped in November.
The Federal Reserve has reduced its expected growth for the economy in 2014 from 2.8% to 2.1% — 25% more dismal than its tepid outlook earlier this year.
The economy for November 2014 looks a little weaker than that of today. Seasonally adjusted unemployment is expected to be 6.3% in November. In the six months ending November 2014, personal incomes should climb by 2.34% (population-labor force adjusted, seasonally unadjusted). Inflation is expected to run at 2% year over year, so the effective personal income buying power will be up by one-third of one percent. That will feel like negligible progress to wage earners.
For homeowners, the hopes for recovery in the housing market remain slim. Housing starts which anticipate demand for new homes are expected to be 1.05 million (annual rate) in October 2014, up from 928,000 in July, but still far below the 1.37 million average rate over the last 20 years. Existing homes should face a similar low demand level. Millions will continue feeling robbed of unrealized capital gains they once believed were theirs.
Interest rates will remain incapable of fueling meaningful growth in retirement nest eggs. Despite the Fed’s $10 billion per month cutback in bond buying, the 10-Year U.S. Treasury Rate is forecast to be a perversely low 2.32% in November.
The timing for foreign threats is much harder to forecast, but the public is aware of dozens of crises that have enough scale and scope for disrupting US interests (Russian meddling in Ukraine, Syrian and Iraqi civil war, Iranian nuclear intransigence, instability in North Korea, Boko Haram in Nigeria, al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, Israeli-Palestinian fighting, and failures of several “Arab Spring” nations.
The Middle East is a nursery for terrorists who want to impose radical versions of religion on their neighbors and rid the area of western influences and commerce. The more radical Middle Eastern terrorists are plotting to export terror into Europe and North America. American consumers know that our intelligence and military operations are essential to keep terrorists at bay, yet most consumers are very unhappy with the loss of American lives and treasure during foreign entanglements. Consumers do not expect the world to be a more peaceful, less threatening place in November.
Russia is working to reassert the might it once had and to re-invade countries (Georgia and Crimea) it once held captive within the Soviet Union. This is distressing for mature Americans who witnessed the high cost of the Cold War that led to Soviet disintegration. That victory seems squandered today since Russia is impervious to US requests and warnings. No consumers want a resumption of the background fears they experienced during the Cold War, but they seem possible.
In November, unemployment, inflation, personal income, and interest rates will be similar to those of today, with the overall economy a little weaker. The Federal Reserve will have halted the third round of its “quantitative easing” (QE) meant to stimulate the economy and foster jobs, but which produced little. The Fed is unlikely rely on QE as a stimulus, and interest rates of zero prevent using the traditional stimulus of “cutting rates.” Consumers know that the Fed is somewhat tapped out.
In November, the Hill and White House will still be incapable of agreement on major budget initiatives (spending or tax cuts) that could improve the economy. Most consumers will vote knowing that their government is impotent on economic issues and cannot control terrorism – it can only react with blunt force. Consumers will bring a bleak mood to the voting booth.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman who writes for The American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research