Economic Outlook: Going nowhere fast

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  April 20, 2012 at 9:19 AM
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On Monday and Wednesday, the journalists are cynical. On Tuesday and Thursday, it's the politicians' turn.

The public can have the weekends. Fridays are up for grabs.

Here's Lily Tomlin's assessment of the situation. The comedienne said, "No matter how cynical we are, it's never enough."

Well, it's Friday and the House in Washington has passed, for two days in a row, bills that were prematurely designated as ripe for presidential vetoes.

The second of these was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's small-business tax cut, which was approved with balloting that came to 235 in favor and 173 against. Presidential aides have called it a "giveaway," pointing out the $46 billion tax cut expected to create 39,000 jobs would cost more than $1 million in debt for each one.

Isn't Cantor trying? The bill that is billed as a 20 percent tax cut for small businesses designates "small" as 500 employees or less. Is there anyone out there with 499 employees who says they run a Mom and Pop operation? That doesn't seem likely.

The bill followed a transportation bill made slightly more complicated by inclusion of a mandate to permit construction of a controversial oil pipeline. This veto-tagged bill was approved the same day the U.S. Senate failed to make any headway with the so-called "Buffett Rule," which was a push by Democrats to increase taxes on the rich to a minimum of 30 percent.

This was named after Warren Buffett, the Wall Street billionaire who said he pays a smaller percentage in taxes than his secretary.

In the background, it should be pointed out, the president is likely to be facing a political campaign in an atmosphere of diminishing returns.

Data already show the recent upswing in the economy is going to be short-lived. Recent drops in the unemployment rate have been significantly helped by a shrinking workforce and a recent Gallup survey suggests the jump in jobs in the first quarter was helped by unseasonably warm early spring weather.

That sets the unemployment rate up for a potential rise in April and another round of discussion on the number of long-term unemployed.

The number of recently unemployed workers is also on the rise. First-time claims for unemployment benefits go up and down week to week, but the four-week rolling average steadies the numbers and that has risen in five of the past seven weeks.

The New York and Philadelphia districts of the Federal Reserve have reported manufacturing gains have begun to slow down.

Haven't we been here before? In fact, we have.

This is the third consecutive year in which the economy has looked rosy in the first quarter, then lost traction.

The bottom-line gross domestic product for the first quarter is one of the more stark numbers out there. It is hard to dismiss the GDP, which is the broadest calculation of economic output.

For the first quarter, the GDP is expected to remain stubbornly low, showing growth of about 2 percent -- that is to say, a wake-up call for everybody, no matter how cynical you are.

In international markets Friday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan slipped 0.28 percent and the Shanghai composite index in China rose 1.19 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was flat, rising 0.07 percent, and the Sensex in India dropped 0.74 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 in Australia was up 0.09 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain gained 0.4 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany climbed 0.91 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 0.27 percent and the Stoxx Europe 600 added 0.34 percent.

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