Monday, February 1, 2016

A Groundhog Day Tradition: The Stekler Award for Courage in Forecasting

The 2016 Stekler Award for Courage in Forecasting goes to Michael ("Mish") Shedlock. At the start of 2015, the blogger popularly known as "Mish" had predicted recessions in Canada and the United States during 2015. While these events did not come to pass, enough anxiety was generated about the health of these economies over the course of the year that Mish deserves some credit for anticipating a degree of weakness that was not being widely talked about at the start of last year.

The Stekler Award is named after the famous forecasting expert and academic Herman Stekler who believes that recessions should be forecast "early and often." In practice, recessions are almost never forecast in advance. The Economist recently re-discovered this long-standing finding and highlighted the poor record of the IMF in forecasting recessions. The record of other public institutions or the private sector is just as poor. For instance, see the charts below on forecasts made by the IMF, OECD and the private sector (labeled ‘CF’ in the charts) over the course of 2009—each point shows the forecast for a particular country. The forecasts are virtually identical. And the forecasts for recessions (negative growth) were not made in advance by any of the sources.

The race is on for the 2017 award. Suggestions are welcome and can be sent to The Stekler Award recognizes forecasts that depart significantly from the consensus view. Predictions need not be restricted to forecasts of recessions but they must be specific (so "oil prices will rebound someday" doesn't cut it) and well reasoned (so no "we have been on the path to doom which is bound to come one day"-type of forecasts).

We mined a recent article in Politico to see if we could get some front runners for the 2017 award. There were a range of predictions, some quite clever (Dean Baker predicted that during 2016, unlike 2015, oil prices would not fall another $60 a barrel), some specific (Ann Harrison predicts that "India will replace China as the leading destination for foreign investment" in 2016), most quite gloomy. On the U.S. economy in 2016, most experts surveyed stuck to the center, though Robert Reich said: "I expect the U.S. economy to sputter in 2016"; if he'd been a little more specific he 'coulda been a contender'.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Unemployment Picture in 2016

From the International Jobs Report--January 2016

Figure 1 provides a measure of the global unemployment rate based on data for 116 countries, of which 37 countries are classified as ‘advanced’ (i.e. high-income) countries and the remaining 79 as ‘emerging market and developing economies.’ (We refer to the second group using the acronym ‘EMDE’.)

Let’s begin with how the global unemployment picture looked before the IMF’s January 2016 WEO Update. Figure 1 provides a measure of the global unemployment rate based on data for 116 countries, of which 37 countries are classified as ‘advanced’ (i.e. high-income) countries and the remaining 79 as ‘emerging market and developing economies.’ (We refer to the second group using the acronym ‘EMDE’.) Focusing on the recent cycle, global unemployment rate peaked in 6.2 percent in 2009 and has since been returning slowly to its pre-crisis level. Over the coming year, the global unemployment rate is expected to go up slightly.

To understand where this increase is coming from, Figure 2 shows the unemployment rate for the two main groups of countries separately. This reveals that the increase comes from the emerging markets and developing countries (EMDE) group. Moreover, the increase in unemployment among this group occurs because of the expected increase in unemployment among fuelexporting countries (Figure 3).

How will the growth revisions affect the unemployment picture?

Now let’s consider how the revisions to the growth forecasts that the IMF announced in the January 2016 WEO Update could change the unemployment picture. At the global level, the forecast for GDP growth in 2016 was revised down by 0.2 percent, which would in turn increase the global unemployment rate only a little bit above the path projected in Figure 1. However, for some countries the revisions in growth forecasts are larger, as shown in Figure 4 below. The biggest change is in Brazil, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Russia.

Continue reading here.

Experts Confer on State of China’s Housing Market

The steady increase in China’s house prices at the national level masks tremendous variation at the city level, conference participants stressed in Shenzhen last month.

House prices in China have been on a long upward march over the past decade prompting questions about what the future holds (see Chart 1). At a conference last month in Shenzhen leading analysts of China’s housing markets provided some answers.

Organized by the IMF in cooperation with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Princeton University, the conference—International Symposium on Housing and Financial Stability in China—spotlighted new data sets on China’s housing markets, which provide informed views of what might happen next.

The conference was part of a series of conferences organized as part of the Global Housing Watch initiative, which also provides a quarterly update on conditions in housing markets. The latest update, released today, shows how China’s house price changes compare with those around the globe.

Demand-Supply Imbalances

Participants at the Shenzhen conference stressed that the steady increase in China’s house prices (see Chart 1) at the national level masks tremendous variation at the city level. Beijing has “experienced one of the greatest booms ever seen in housing markets,” according to real estate expert Joe Gyourko (University of Pennsylvania), but the situation is different elsewhere. With his co-authors, Gyourko has constructed a residential land price index for 35 large cities in China based on government sales of land to private developers. These data show that prices have increased in inflation-adjusted terms by about 80 percent a year in Beijing over the past decade but by only 10 percent a year in Xian (see Chart 2).

Continue reading here.

Global Housing Watch Quarterly Update

If we aggregate real house prices across countries and look at the big picture, we see that global house prices continue to march slowly upward. This is what we observe in the latest update of the Global House Price Index (Figure 1). The index has continued to edge higher for the past sixteen quarters.

This upward trend in the Global House Price Index is consistent with the pattern we see when we look at real house price growth across countries. Even though the growth rate varies across countries, house prices are rising in many countries (Figure 2).

Moreover, there is also a clear shift in momentum when comparing house prices in 2015 vs. 2009—the peak of the global financial crisis. We can see this by comparing the proportion of countries with either positive or negative real house price growth for both periods (Figure 3). Specifically, the share of countries with positive real house price growth has gone up from 24 percent in 2009 to 75 percent in 2015. And we see the opposite, when we look at the proportion of countries with negative house price growth. Here the share of countries with 3 negative real house price growth has declined from 76 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2015. However, it is important to note that global growth has slowed recently, especially in emerging markets. So it will be important to monitor the data in upcoming quarters to determine the impact on the uptrend in global house prices.

Continue reading the report here

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“Growth is devilishly hard to predict”

Kevin Drum--a political blogger for Mother Jones--asks: "But I wonder who did better at predicting recessions? Goldman Sachs? The CIA? A hedge fund rocket scientist in Connecticut? Whoever it is, it sounds like the IMF might want to look them up."

But as Drum noted in the Economist article, "Despite forecasters’ best efforts, growth is devilishly hard to predict".

Last year, in September, my presentation at the Federal Forecasters Conference summarized my work on the inability or unwillingness of forecasters to predict recessions. I suggested that to get forecasters to predict recessions (even inaccurately) we should have a Stekler Award for Courage in Forecasting. The award would be in honor of noted forecaster Herman Stekler who says that forecasters should predict recessions early and often and that he himself has predicted 9 of the last 5 recessions.

For my recent work on forecast accuracy see the following:

  • September 2015: Fail Again? Fail Better? On the Inability to Forecast Recessions
  • April 2014: “There will be growth in the spring”: How well do economists predict turning points?