Thursday, July 10, 2008

Financial comparisons may temper hysteria

Here are some comparative financial statistics relative to the U.S. and other developed major industrial countries:
---First quarter GDP growth---U.S., 2.5%; Britain, 2.5%; France, 2.2%; Germany, 1.8%; Canada, 1.7%; Japan, 1.3%; Italy, 0.3%.
---May consumer price increase---Japan, 1.3%; Canada, 2.2%; Britain, France, and Germany, all 3.3%; Italy, 3.8%; U.S., 4.2%.
---May unemployment rate---Germany, 7.8%; France, 7.4%; Italy, 6.5%; Canada, 6.1%; U.S., 5.5%; Britain, 5.3%; Japan, 4.0%.

The most powerful emerging economies are less relevant comparisons as they have an entirely different dynamic, but they are interesting to note. Brazil, Russia, India, and China, have on average GDP growth of 8.4%, consumer price growth of 9.1% and unemployment of 7.8%.

Focusing on the most meaningful comparisons with the developed countries: the U.S. is highest in GDP growth, that's a relative positive(first quarter is the most current set of fully developed numbers for this measure and second quarter will likely see declines across the group); has the highest level of consumer price increases, that's a negative; and just better than the median in employment, a modest plus.

The higher consumer price numbers in the U.S., the major negative comparison, are largely due to the weakness of the dollar and the higher percent increase in the price of gasoline and heating oil. It should be noted that the four European countries and Japan pay almost twice as much for gasoline as consumers in the U.S. do, so that the percentage impact of this year's increases have been lower off of an already higher base there, and that may account for some of the pronounced difference.

These economic comparisons could be looked at in several ways:
---We have company as the economy heads off a cliff
---Painful as the market declines and economic stresses are here, they are part of a global adjustment and not just ineptitude and greed in this country.
---While the unemployment rate has recently climbed in the U.S., it is lower than all but two of the G-7 countries and all of the BRIC countries. This could augur well for a recovery as adjustments are made.
---GDP growth, while under pressure in the last month, remains within current global standards of a developed country and one could extrapolate that it will continue to be buoyed by the competitiveness of U.S. exports.

Of course these financial comparisons are history, and where it's all going remains an open and worrisome question. At present, however, in the context of the global economy, the U.S. remains relatively stable.

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