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U.S. Outbound Travel Expenditure Says No Double Dip Recession

Economics / Economic Recovery Aug 01, 2010 - 03:43 PM GMT

By: Andrew_Butter


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleWhen inflation (or deflation) are so low that measurement errors can be bigger than “The Answer”, and when an economy is in the process of re-adjusting and so “measurement” of GDP itself is also and issue – witness the size of the revisions; and when traditional “markers” of drivers of economic activity are reacting in a “non-traditional way”, it can be hard to figure what’s going to happen next.

Most commentators are saying that a “double-dip” is on the horizon, M3 is tanking, jobs are still being lost (albeit slower), consumer confidence is in a hole, house prices look like they could go down some more and the ECRI-WLI (whatever that is), is showing a record negative (although it was only started in 2007 as far as I can gather).

All in all, the general mood reminds me of “Bye-bye Miss American Pie”.

I’m, not so sure, my (minority) take is that a lot of what got called “economic value added”  from 2005 to 2007 was in fact an illusion, what’s happening is a re-valuation and re-interpretation of what is “real” and what was a mirage.

That’s normal; like a hangover.

A set of numbers I like is outbound travel expenditure, for a number of reasons. Not least because it’s “clean” (no one has any reason to “manipulate” those numbers), and also, they typically say something about the “heat” of an economy. You might buy a new car or a discounted shirt (or home) if there are “tax-breaks” or special offers, but no one travels abroad if they are not either (a) confident enough to take a holiday or (b) doing business (hopefully profitably).

Here’s the chart, data is from the BEA and ITA:  (

The reason I find that chart interesting is that putting aside the fact that 9/11 dramatically changed American’s outbound travel habits, since then there has been a remarkably good correlation between GDP and outbound passenger fare expenditure, just as there was before, except it re-set.

Also, notice how “bubbles” tended to push the line up, from 1999 to 2000 and also in the last “rites” of the housing bubble. And sure, Swine-Flu had an effect, but that’s history.

The passenger fare data is only up to April 2010, but eyeballing the direction of that line what I see is a prospect of growth, admittedly in nominal GDP.

But right now, I’d say most people would settle for any sort of growth “real” or not; and it’s only when money starts moving from one set of pockets to another, that the pain will start to subside.

And for me, Americans jumping on planes to travel outside and bring money home, is as important a marker as say manufacturing, bankers playing the games they play (anything to avoid making loans to Main Street), or the propensity to spend money in shopping malls buying stuff you don’t really need, however much it’s been discounted.

That’s also consistent with the other (minority) idea I have, which is that now US House prices are nearing their final bottom (10% to 15% down from here over two years), the negative effect of falling house prices on nominal GDP growth will start to fade.

By Andrew Butter

Twenty years doing market analysis and valuations for investors in the Middle East, USA, and Europe; currently writing a book about BubbleOmics. Andrew Butter is managing partner of ABMC, an investment advisory firm, based in Dubai ( ), that he setup in 1999, and is has been involved advising on large scale real estate investments, mainly in Dubai.

© 2010 Copyright Andrew Butter- All Rights Reserved
Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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