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The consumer will save us,” or some variation thereof, has become a rallying cry for those believing that the U.S. economy will avoid recession, at least for the foreseeable future. For RealityChek regulars, however, it’s a red flag, possibly revealing that too many economy watchers have forgotten, or never learned, the most important lesson of the global financial crisis of the previous decade and the Great Recession it triggered: The quality of American growth matters at least as much as the quantity – and more specifically, economic expansion that’s too heavily reliant on consuming rather than producing is too likely to end in tears.

That’s why last week’s latest official report on America’s economic growth has me somewhat worried. It’s true, as I reported, that it contained some good news on the trade front, showing a continuing Trump administration trend of decent growth rates no longer tightly linked with huge, soaring trade deficits. But the figures (the second look of three looks at the second quarter’s performance – at least for the time being) also confirm major backsliding when it comes to the domestic determinants of healthy and unhealthy growth – a big surge in the role of consumption and housing combined as growth engines. That’s exactly the toxic combination that inflated the last decade’s historic bubble. And it could become a reversal of a positive Trump-period trend.

According to those official data, consumption and housing in the second quarter fueled 150 percent of that period’s 2.02 percent annualized inflation-adjusted growth – the most closely followed measure of change in gross domestic product (GDP – economists’ term for the economy as a whole). A figure greater than 100 percent, by the way, is possible because other components of GDP can subtract from growth – and in the second quarter, obviously did..

That 150 percent figure is the biggest by far since the third and fourth quarters of 2015. The only saving grace for that figure is that back in 2015, much stronger performance in personal consumption and housing was producing only roughly comparable overall growth.

The second quarter numbers are somewhat better on a standstill basis, but point in the wrong direction as well. From March through June this year, the toxic combination represented 72.67 percent of the economy in constant dollar terms. That’s the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2017 (72.87 percent). Moreover, back then, the economy was growing a good deal faster (at a 3.50 versus a 2.02 percent annual rate).

None of this means that the U.S. economy is now firmly on an unhealthy growth track. In fact, the worrisome second quarter “growth contribution” figures followed an especially good first quarter. From January through March, personal consumption and housing together produced only 23.87 percent of that stretch’s solid 3.01 percent annualized real growth – the lowest such figure since the fourth quarter of 2011 (16.38 percent of 4.64 percent annualized growth).

On a standstill basis, the last time that the toxic combination represented a lower share of the total economy in real terms was the fourth quarter of 2015 (72.15 percent). And during that period, there was almost (0.13 percent) real annualized economic growth.

Further, the Trump healthy growth record so far is better than the record during President Obama’s two terms in office. During the latter’s administrations, the toxic combination generated 80.74 percent of its $2.2537 trillion in after-inflation growth. Under President Trump, personal consumption plus housing has been responsible for 72.64 percent of $1.002 trillion of such growth. (Both calculations begin the these two administrations in the second quarter of their first year in office, since Inauguration Day doesn’t take place until January 20.)

Real growth, moreover, has been somewhat faster so far. Over 32 quarters, the U.S. economy grew by 18.44 percent after inflation under Obama. Over nine Trump quarters, the economy has become 5.56 percent larger – which translates into 19.80 percent growth over a 32-quarter stretch. All in all, that’s a pretty good reflection on this President’s performance.

Economically, though, the big question is whether it will continue. And politically, it’s whether it will suffice, in tandem with any other perceived strengths, to bring a second Trump term.