Super Bowl ads this year have generated an unusual controversy: On-line lending and mortgage giant Quicken Loans is being accused of egging on another housing/consumption bubble – i.e., the same kind of reckless borrowing and spending behavior that helped produce the 2008 financial crisis, and the painful recession and painfully slow recovery that followed.
Watch the ad and judge for yourself whether Quicken is guilty as charged. But also keep in mind that, Quicken or not, bubble territory is exactly where the U.S. economy is heading, at least if the official figures on the gross domestic product (GDP) are accurate. Indeed, by one key measure, the nation, according to GDP figures that take the story through the end of 2015, is now considerably more bubble-ized than at the start of the last recession: Housing and household spending together keep increasingly leading economic growth, and as a result are becoming ever larger shares of the economy.
I’ve repeatedly called these two components of GDP the toxic combination whose excessive growth inflated the last decade’s bubble. At its peak, in 2005, they accounted for 73.09 percent of the U.S. economy after inflation – with housing at 6.13 percent (an all-time record according to government figures that go back to 1999) and personal spending at 66.96 percent (then a post-World War II record).
Housing began crashing soon after, but by the time the recession arrived in the last quarter of 2007, their total share of real GDP still came to 71.40 percent. Through the recession, this figure sank, but it rebounded along with economic growth. By 2013, it was back over 71 percent, and in 2014, hit 71.19 percent.
Last year, the personal spending and housing comeback kicked into another gear. Their combined share of the economy shot up to 71.83 percent – higher than at the onset of the bubble-spurred recession. And their momentum grew throughout the year. Between the first and the fourth quarters, this figure rose from 71.67 percent to 72.17 percent.
High profile push-back against Quicken Loans’ alleged message shows that at least some leading economic voices are aware that America is once again on a low-quality growth path. But concerns expressed by politicians, much less presidential candidates? Their silence remains deafening.