Friday, October 30, 2009

What Cash for Clunkers did

The Business Insider publishes this chart of car sales for the past 30 years and it gives us a dramatic image of the effect that the Cash for Clunkers program had on car sales.Sales like that had a dramatic impact on the 3rd Quarter's GNP figures released yesterday. More importantly, the shift in car purchases into that one quarter will have a sharp impact on future car sales.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), motor vehicle output spiked a seasonally-adjusted 157.6% quarter on quarter. This is completely unprecedented. Vehicle output is clearly going off a cliff next quarter. The question will be how low can the blue line below go.

Next quarter, we won't just be returning to business as usual for auto output. Don't forget that Cash for Clunkers pulled future auto demand, ie. some of Q4 demand, into Q3. Thus Q4 is likely to be very weak since many people who planned to buy a car in Q4 probably took advantage of Clunkers and bought in Q3.

To put this into GDP terms, according to the BEA the spike you see below added 1.66% to the U.S. GDP growth figure reported. Thus without it, GDP growth would have been only 1.89% (3.5% - 1.66%) in Q3.

Now imagine if next quarter the blue line below goes down into negative territory as it did just two quarters ago. Next quarter, not only are we unlikely to get Q3's boost, but motor vehicle output data could subtract from GDP as well. So watch out for the cliff...