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Everything You Need To Know About the Economy in 2012, in 34 Charts

Matthew O'Brien

Give the Mayans credit. They came within a week or so of predicting the fiscal cliff. That's a forecasting record most economists can only dream of. 


Mike Konczal, Roosevelt Institute: This is the difference between the mortgage interest rates in the primary market, or where lenders make mortgage loans, and the secondary market, where those loans turn into securitizations, as documented by the New York Fed. This means that Wall Street is capturing a large part of the record low rates, courtesy of monetary policy, and not passing on that purchasing power to consumers, underwater or otherwise. They are doing this as a result of the way HARP was implemented, capacity constraints, and market power. It's yet another example of how the poor policy response, wasted allocated money, and lack of real public options and actions in the collapsed housing market has kept the economy in check, while letting Wall Street take a huge cut of the upside. But it's also another example of how the administration hasn't successfully coordinated its powers to boost, rather than constrict, the power of monetary policy.

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: Why is this recovery different from all other recoveries? It might be the the most important economic question of 2012 (and 2011, and 2010, and 2009 ... and 2013). I'd be lying if I said I could answer it in a graph. But I can get pretty close. This chart tells a simple story: Home and car sales power recoveries. After the recessions in the 1970s, H&C sales accounted for about half of catch-up growth. After the recession of the early 1980s, they accounted for a third. Those recoveries were pretty fast and strong. But after the recessions of the 1990s and 2000s, H&C sales accounted for only a sixth of growth. After the Great Recession, they have accounted for barely a tenth. General Post-War Law of Recoveries: If you're not selling houses and cars (especially houses), your recovery stinks. We're not selling houses. And our recovery stinks. That's why the rumblings in the housing market -- slightly rising prices, slightly rising construction on single- and, especially, multi-family homes -- are so important for 2013.

Cullen Roche, Pragmatic Capitalism: As the Fed continues to embark on their various "stimulative" programs in 2012 I think it's once again wise to look at the one long-standing historical case study in highly expansionary Fed policy. Over the course of the last 20 years Japan's central bank, the Bank of Japan, has implemented various different forms of quantitative easing. But as the chart below via ING shows, these programs have failed to materially alter the stagnant economy or induce inflation. I'd like to think the USA is different and that Fed policy will have a more beneficial impact here, but that reminds me of John Templeton's 4 most dangerous words in the world of investing -- "it's different this time". Is it really?

Jim Tankersley, Washington Post: Forget Greece. Americans should be concerned that we're becoming more and more like England - at least in terms of income mobility. There is growing evidence that from one American generation to the next, mobility is declining. It's getting harder, that is, to work your way into a higher income level than the one into which you were born. A son's adult income in the United States is about half dictated by how much his father made, a percentage that is nearly as high as in any country in wealth-by-birthright Europe, according to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. That's a trend that not even the biggest of Anglophiles would welcome.

Dylan Matthews, Washington Post: Ever since Obama was elected, DC has suddenly rediscovered a fervor for deficit reduction. But it's worth keeping in mind why deficits are concerning in the long-run. The fear is that if our debt load gets too big, investors will start demanding a "sovereign risk premium," to compensate them for the danger that we might default on our debts. That premium in turn hikes up interest payments -- worsening the budget situation still further -- and redirects investment that could go to private industry to government-issued securities. But not only are investors not charging such a premium, they're doing the reverse. In recent months they've started paying interest rates on even 20 year debt that are actually negative, when adjusted for inflation. This means two things. One is that, unless the markets are wildly irrational in a way that even the most dogged Keynesian wouldn't expect, the US doesn't have a deficit problem for a good long while. Secondly, it means the US is stupid to be doing anything other than taking the free money investors are giving it to solve the jobs crisis, rebuild infrastructure, and pursue other national goals.

There you have it. Now you know everything -- and then some -- about what happened in the global economy in 2012. Hopefully next year's edition will just be filled with charts of all the jobs we created in the past 12 months.

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