From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Philadelphia FED Survey

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My “touchstone” for economic forecasting is the quarterly Philadelphipa FED Survey of Professional Forecasters. They survey about 50 or so forecasters each quarter representing the top forecasting “shops” in the country. (The number isn’t exact, because many of the forecasters wish to remain anonymous.) Included in the mix are the usual suspects — Mark Zandi from Moody’s, Ethan Harris from BofA, Dean Maki from Barclays, Ardavan Mobasheri from AIG, Sean Snaith of U. Central Florida, and so forth. I mention these names as examples to demonstrate these are folks who span the broad array of economic perspectives, and who usually represent firms that are actually putting their “money where their mouth is.”

An additional strength of this survey is methodological — the Phily-FED reports not only the mean of the responses, but also the distribution of those responses. Thus, it’s very helpful to see when individual forecasts are highly coalesced around a central tendency, or if there is a great degree of dispersion in the estimates.

Bottom line — the current projections for 2012 and 2013 are now weaker than they were three months ago (in the previous survey). While a double-dip recession doesn’t appear to be in the offing, the panelists expect real GDP growth to end up at 1.8% for 2011, 2.4% in 2012, and 2.7% in 2013. While 2011 will end slightly rosier than previously forecast, the numbers for out-years are about 0.2% lower than previously expected. The outlook for 2014 is also less than previously expected.

Courtesy Philadelphia FED Quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters

These downward revisions in GDP growth come primarily from “…upward revisions to unemployment and downward revisions to job growth.” Specifically, unemployment is expected to end this year right at 9.0%, and is expected to fall to 8.8% next year, 8.5% ini 2013, and 7.8% in 2014. The prior survey had a fair amount dispersion in estimates for end-of-year 2011 unemployment, with over 30% of respondents optimistically thinking that unemployment could end the year between 8.5% and 8.9%. That number has now dropped to about 20%, and about 75% of respondents now believe that unemployment will end this year between 9.0% and 9.4%.

Courtesy Philadelphia FED Quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters

Intriguingly, the central tendency of next year’s forecast didn’t change much from the last survey to this one, with between 30% – 40% of respondents thinking that unemployment would hover between 8.5% and 8.9% next year. The real change in the forecast came in the next-lower and next-higher brackets of estimates, which nearly reversed themselves from last survey to this survey. A quarter ago, about 25% of respondents thought that unemployment would end up around 8.6% in 2012, and only about 20% projected 9.2%. Today, only about 15% forecast the lower range, and about 32% are opting for the higher range.

Finally, while forecasts of inflation over the next ten years is still nearly flat-lined around 2.5%, there have been slight up-tics in forecasts ever since mid-2010. The following chart shows the general sentiment among forecasters, as well as the “track” of their forecasts over the past 20 years, which as you can see is pretty neatly distributed in a tight range. In general, inflation has not been a major issue in over a decade, but it is still worth tracking.

Courtesy Philadelphia FED Quarterly Survey of Professional Forecasters

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  1. The Philadelphia Fed’s survey is a great resource, but I like how the Wall Street Journal’s forecast ( One thing worth noting is that the “optimists” are not very optimistic at all. Only two of the Wall Street Journal’s 50 or so survey participants predict GDP growth above four percent in 2013 or 2014. Given how far beneath our potential output we are, there normally would be lots of people forecasting a rebound.

    Bill Conerly

    November 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

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