As Goldman Slashes 0.5% From Q4 Growth, How Much More "Government Shutdown" GDP Pain Is There?

Over the past month there has been a sudden shift in the public’s attention to the debt ceiling debate and away from the government shutdown, which since it did not result in the Armageddon many had predicted (same as the sequester) has been promptly forgotten. However, the reality is that while government workers are getting a post-facto paid vacation when the government reopens, current consumption is substantially curtailed and furthermore, government appropriation budgets are in limbo and thus unspent (for a prior analysis of how the calendar of government appropriations may favorable impact the late summer economy, read here). Which means with every passing day the US economic output is declining, and once again sellside analyst estimates will (as usual) have to be substantially lowered.

Enter Goldman Sachs, whose Alex Phillips just said that: “If a longer-term resolution can be reached over the coming days, we would expect the downside risk from the fiscal debate to be limited to about 0.5pp in Q4, compared to our current growth forecast of 2.5%.” In other words, pro forma for the 14 day government shutdown (and continuing) Goldman has just cut its Q4 GDP forecast from 2.5% to 2.0%. And to think this was the year that Jan Hatzius was desperately praying his optimism (for the 4th year in a row – and who can possibly forget Hatzius boosting its Q4 2010 GDP estimate from 4% to 5.8% – and the same every year since) would finally be rewarded. Sorry Jan: we were right again, you were wrong. Again.

But the bigger issue for the US economy is that with every passing day, another chunk of consumption, i.e., economic growth is being eliminated. How much? Goldman explains:

From October 1-4, we believe the shutdown probably reduced federal compensation by roughly $400mn per day. We would expect the non-compensation aspects of the initial stage of the shutdown to have been very modest. Overall, the first four business days of the shutdown probably reduced growth by 0.16pp.


The shutdown has now lasted a second week, but the incremental effect should be smaller. The Department of Defense has brought most of its employees back to work, leaving 450k federal employees still out of work, and thus reducing the effect on federal compensation to $225mn per day. We would expect a small reduction in services-related consumption as well. After the second week of shutdown, we believe the cumulative reduction in Q4 real GDP growth amounts to 0.28pp (Exhibit 2).


From here the direct effects of shutdown will depend on the flow of federal employees into and out of work, and whether agencies draw down remaining funds which could deepen the spending reduction. As the shutdown entered its second week, a few agencies recalled workers as needs arose. Other agencies have only recently furloughed workers as residual funding for activities ran dry. If the shutdown continues, our impression is that the net effect of this will be that more workers will be furloughed as days go by, but that this is unlikely to change the aggregate effect substantially.


Going forward, the effect that the ongoing debate will have on growth will depend on whether the agreement reached over the coming days is limited to only a short-term extension, or if a longer-term (i.e., through 2014) resolution is achieved. It also of course depends on whether the shutdown is ended over the coming week. As noted earlier, at this stage the duration of the agreement is unclear, but it seems increasingly likely that the shutdown will be ended with the resolution of the debt limit. If a longer-term resolution can be reached over the coming days, we would expect the downside risk from the fiscal debate to be limited to about 0.5pp in Q4, compared to our current growth forecast of 2.5%.

And what if a resolution can not be reached in the coming days, and government remains shut for the foreseeable future? As shown on the chart below, the GDP decline is largely cumulative and linear, and with every passing business week, another 0.2% in Q3 GDP is wiped out.

In other words, if for some reason government is not reopened for the entire 4th quarter, just the government shutdown alone will push Q4 GDP to 0%, assuming the consensus is accurate in its 2.0% starting estimate. This of course excludes the massive hit on corporate confidence as a result of the lack of major government appropriations, which we believe reduce Q4 GDP by another 0.2% per week however not linearly, but exponentially, and the longer the shutdown continues, the more negative Q4 GDP will be.

Which, perversely, is precisely what the Fed needs. Because while on one hand the lack of economic data will not shock everyone into grasping just how depressed the economy has become, the realization once everything reopens will be precisely the carte blanche Yellen needs for the Fed to continue an Untapered QE well into 2014, and with that preserving the wealth effect for Yellen’s superior: the criminal banking syndicate.


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