Thursday, July 7, 2011

Everyday I'm Shuffling

We can finally move out of our chairs, or at least turn the channel on the TV: the Casey Anthony trial is over.  For some reason, it seems us Americans can’t get enough of this or any similar type drama.  For the past few weeks, this trial followed us wherever we went.  To the gym, to the work lounge, to our daily internet browsing, and home again.  Just when you wondered what could possibly be on TV worth watching as our favorite shows are on summer break, along comes this gem.  You might think with all the crime, law, and judge shows on TV (and even an entire TruTV channel to promote our love of this stuff) we wouldn’t be so infatuated with this trial.  But that is not the American way, we love a good criminal trial, preferably preceded by a high-speed car chase.  We still dissect whether O.J. is guilty and that was 16 years ago.  (Guilty! Not Guilty! The Glove! The Ford Bronco!)

Yet with this 24/7 news story quickly becoming last week’s obsession, we have a void to fill.  Sure the annual Nathan’s hot dog eating contest to celebrate our nation's independence was pretty entertaining (if not disturbing).  And (as if on cue) a new season of America’s Got Talent is underway.  But Talent is not Idol (how could it be without Ryan Seacrest) – and we’re still left hungry for more.  Let's face it: This is the worst time of year in terms of keeping our TV appetites satisfied.  But we can make do with what we have for now. 

The sentiment of making do with the summer TV lineup while hoping for better shows in the fall season is a good way to describe the general sentiment of the economy.  According to the results of two surveys conducted each month, one for the manufacturing sector and one for the non-manufacturing sector, economic activity is generally moving in a positive direction, albeit slowly.  (Non-manufacturing includes retail, construction, real estate, finance, entertainment, education, healthcare, and other business services.)  Overall business activity and orders for new business in June for the non-manufacturing sector came in at “53.4” and “53.6”, respectively (anything over “50” means there is growth) which is good, but these numbers are down over May.  Further, the percent of non-manufacturing businesses reporting declines in activity and new orders (not good) over the last few months appears to be steadily rising (going from 11% to 17% for business activity and from 9% to 16% for new orders).  The backlog of unfilled orders for non-manufacturers contracted in June (going from “55.0” in May to “48.5”) likely a reflection of the slowing rate of new orders.  Certainly it is good that businesses are still growing overall but there seems to be room for improvement.

Understanding how the economy is doing is important because if the businesses around us aren’t doing well, in all likelihood neither are we.  The private non-manufacturing sector made up about 75% of U.S. economic activity ("value added") in 2010.  How these businesses are doing has implications for our jobs, wages, and quality of life.  If businesses aren’t making money then jobs and salaries are one of the first things to get cut.  The impact of this lost value to the economy affects other businesses, which perpetuates a negative cycle (like a sickness).  That’s why each month it’s important to look at what the economic indicators are telling us, as a way to take our temperature.   Taking cues from the temperature of businesses around us can help us make better decisions with how to budget our money.  The numbers released yesterday should give us a cautious optimism.

How can we help ensure a smooth next few months (when our TV shows come back)?  We can always expand our horizons and join a summer kickball/softball/beer pong league.  Similarly, businesses may also wish to expand their horizons, literally.  Exports were one of the few components of both the manufacturing and non-manufacturing surveys that registered solid growth in June (steady at “57”).  Interestingly, 69% percent of non-manufacturing companies surveyed said they do not perform or measure exports (granted, some things aren’t “tradeable”).  Time to get off the couch and shuffle.

(Institute of Supply Management-ISM National Report on Business, Bureau of Economic Analysis)

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