– John Kemp is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own –
Unable to rely on the wounded consumer, the outlook for U.S. growth in the next three years depends on business investment and exports to take up the slack when stimulus programmes wind down.
Ultra-low interest rates will help. But with the economy struggling to work off a huge overhang of unused real estate assets, and not much sign of investment elsewhere, investment spending is set to remain sluggish, condemning the economy to a weak recovery in the medium term.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other senior U.S. officials have already warned the rest of the world can no longer rely on over-indebted U.S. consumers as the principal source of global growth. There is no choice but to rely on investment and exports to take up more of the burden.
But investment spending outside real estate has been very depressed over the last cycle; there is no reason to expect it to accelerate much before 2013 at the earliest. So despite signs of a significant cyclical improvement in manufacturing in the past couple of months, the medium-’term outlook looks weaker.
MANUFACTURING BASE STAGNATES
Between 2004 and 2008, private sector fixed-investment averaged $2.125 trillion per year (16 percent of GDP), split evenly between spending on equipment and software ($1.025 trillion) and buildings and structures ($1.102 trillion), according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.