Oil prices, autos, and the U.S. economy

It’s instructive to compare what’s currently happening to the auto sector and the U.S. economy with what we saw in the wake of the 1990 oil shock.Sales of light trucks manufactured in North America, which category includes the once almighty SUV, remain deeply depressed, with July sales down 26% compared with last year.

dom_trucks_aug_08.gifDomestic car sales are down 6.4% from last year, and again July of 2007 was unrepresentatively weak.

dom_cars_aug_08.gifSales of imports are doing much better.

imp_cars_aug_08.gifThis is very much the pattern we observed in previous oil price shocks, with an abrupt drop in the demand for Detroit’s money makers and shift into more gas-stingy imports. The resultant hit to incomes in the auto sector is one of the mechanisms whereby an oil price increase can contribute to an overall U.S. recession.

It’s interesting to compare what we’ve observed so far this year with what happened during the oil price shock and economic recession that followed Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. With the loss of oil production from both Iraq and Kuwait, the price of oil shot up quickly, nearly doubling between July and October, after which it fell back down almost as dramatically. By contrast, the oil shock of 2008 has been a more gradual affair, caused by booming demand from China confronting stagnating global production. Although the price increases occurred more gradually, in percentage terms the cumulative change in oil prices over the last year is almost as big as we observed in the fall of 1990.

oil_price_90_07.gifIn terms of the consequences for auto sector employment, the number of U.S. workers employed in motor vehicles and parts fell by 62,000 workers in the month of November 1990, with a cumulative loss of 94,000 auto jobs before the recovery began in April 1991. By comparison, auto employment this past year fell by 83,000 workers, cumulatively about the same size disruption as in 1990, but spread out over a longer period.

auto_emp_90_07.gifIn terms of the effect on GDP, the contribution of motor vehicles and parts to real GDP fell by $15 billion between 1990:Q3 and 1990:Q4 and an additional $15 billion between 1990:Q4 and 1991:Q1. That corresponds to about 0.2% of GDP each quarter, or a hit to the annual growth rate of real GDP of about 0.8% each quarter.

auto_gdp_90_07.gifAgain, the overall magnitude of the response we’ve seen in autos this year is comparable to that in 1990-91, with the sector subtracting $12 billion (in 2000 dollars) from 2008:Q1 real GDP and an additional $22 billion from 2008:Q2. But because the economy overall is larger than it was in 1990, that -$22 billion lopped off only 0.6 percentage points from the annual GDP growth rate for last quarter. In other words, if real production from this sector had been the same in 2008:Q2 as it was in 2008:Q1, and none of the other components of GDP were changed as a result, the growth rate for 2008:Q2 would have been +2.5% rather than the reported +1.9%.

auto_gdp_percent_90_07.gifOf course, autos are not the only sector where we see significant shifts in spending as a result of a sharp increase in the price of oil. Airlines and some tourist-dependent areas are also hit hard, and there is an interaction between oil prices and the credit crunch for outlying exurban communities. Even so, the oil price increase in 1990 was not enough by itself to cause the recession, but may have been the factor that tipped an otherwise wobbly economy into freefall.

As Yogi Bera might say, looks like deja vu all over again.


Originally published at Econbrowser and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "Oil prices, autos, and the U.S. economy"

  1. theeconomicfractalist   August 9, 2008 at 7:46 am

    Dollar Denominated Asset Reequilibrium And the Real EconomyProfound rotational valuation changes in the US dollar index, commodities, equities, and quality debt instruments will occur over the next 19 or so months. Gold is likely to be revalued at less than 250 US dollars. All revaluations will occur in a precise quantum fractal manner. US dollars are being destroyed through consumer, corporate, and financial default at an unknown but increasing rate with rotational devaluation of equities, and now commodities, serving as a precise quantum fractal mirror of the underlying deterministic macroeconomic process which had boundaries defined by supply and demand, debt load and the ability to service that debt load based on jobs. The macroeconomic system taken by its individual and interconnected parts is complex- but the summation of system’s activity and its ongoing condition in terms of money growth or decline is elegantly simple and is defined in likewise elegantly simple quantum valuation fractal patterns – further defined in the context of valuation saturation curves limiting growth and conversely decay and by areas of nonlinear valuation growth and decay leading to those saturation limits. US real estate and valuable US assets are denominated in a vanishing number of surviving dollars. The dollars previous collapse and current growth against other currencies are following simple readily identifiable Lammert quantum fractal patterns. Private sector and non federal jobs are being lost. Unlike federal government related jobs, the private sector economy is dependent on a bottom line profit margin from ongoing and seasonal buying which in turn is dependent on the collective ongoing wealth of consumers and a loaded pipeline of higher cost durable goods. Even after the equilibratiion of residual dollars relative to other currencies and financial assets, the real private economy will take some time to reestablish former US GDP nominal growth which has largely been based on consumer debt expansion – especially in the last decade. In this setting where there may not be time to allow a slow reestablishment of a functioning credit system, nationalization of much of the US private economy is possible.

  2. Guest   August 20, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    A long, slow & steady decline will make itself felt in the US economy in the next several years. The reasons are relatively simple, we have largely become a cultureless society with mostly hedonistic tendencies driven by the next popular thing that consumes our own self interests.Brief periods of economic euphoria will gradually give way to a pathetic erosion of confidence and will rachet downwards to new lows in consumer confidence and earning power.Economic recovery will occur only as the result of new technological improvements which will assist the American and Worldwide consumer in a positive manner. In other words we cannot work our way out of this economic morass by “picking each others pockets.” America still largely believes in the “pennies from heaven” attitude.We need to fix our broken educational system to more accurately reflect rising worldwide standards. Sadly, our fastest growing industry is the incarceration business. In Texas alone, nearly one in five African American males aged between 17 & 39 in that state fall under some aspect of their penal system. We cannot survive this state of affairs for long, as several other other states are close behind in regards to this pathetic situation.Where will middle class America get the money and jobs required to save for our future economic security, but yet still also pay for our toys & increased costs of living, to say nothing about the most expensive medical delivery system in the world?E