These economics reporters at the Associated Press have become experts at deadpan humor.
Earlier today, I noted how the wire service's Christopher Rugaber told readers, in the wake of a government report showing the lowest wage and benefit increases on record, that "the job market is not yet back to full health." No kidding, Chris. On top of that, the AP's Martin Crutsinger reacted to yesterday's tepid report on gross domestic product, which was accompanied by significant downward revisions to the past three years, by expressing "concerns that the U.S. economy has entered a period of historically slow growth." Dude, we have been living through historically slow growth for six years, ever since the recession officially ended in the middle of 2009.
First, the good news. The Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger didn't handle his coverage of today's release of May's "Manufacturing and Trade Inventories and Sales" report by the Census Bureau as incompetently as he did the report on wholesale sales and inventories he filed on Friday. Visitors here may recall that the AP reporter referred to a key figure as "inventories" when it really represented "sales." As a result, the typical reader of Crutsinger's Friday AP dispatch could not have known that he was either ignorantly or deliberately covering up a serious 3.8 percent decline in year-over-year sales (6.8 percent before seasonal adjustment) — yet another in a string of such troubling monthly comparative decreases.
The bad news is that in covering the government's manufacturing-related report today, Crutsinger failed to report yet another serious year-over-year sales decline in an economy which we're supposed to believe is growing. Many readers will come away from Crutsinger's coverage and its accompanying headline believing that things are really all right. They're not.
Martin Crutsinger has been a business and economics writer at the Associated Press for over three decades. Certain people in high places apparently hold him in high regard. In early 2014, on his 30th anniversary with the wire service, he is said to have received congratulatory letters from soon-to-be Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, soon-to-be-former chair Ben Bernanke and Obama administration Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, which he clearly enjoyed as those in attendance munched on a very delicious-looking cake.
We can't know whether the congrats from those heavy hitters merely marked a career milestone, or if they included an element of "Thanks for toeing the line all these years." What I do know is that the dispatch Crutsinger wrote Friday morning on the government's gruesome May wholesale trade report contains errors and instances of ignorance which really do take the cake.
All the attention given to the decidedly mixed employment report the government issued early Thursday morning and the ongoing debt drama in Greece overshadowed a very disappointing release on factory orders which arrived from the Census Bureau 90 minutes later.
In a cursory eight-paragraph report at the Associated Press, Martin Crutsinger relayed the basic bad news, but studiously avoided citing the kinds of statistics which might have gotten noticed on the cluttered news day. These items include but are certainly not limited to the fact that seasonally adjusted orders have declined in eight of the past ten months, that reported monthly shipments have been coming in below levels seen two years ago, and that reported monthly orders are trailing levels seen three years ago.
In addition to his usual tired historical revisionism, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger, in his report on May's budget deficit of $82 billion, failed to mention that the nation is once again operating at the legal limit of its authorized debt. Additionally, he mailed in his final five paragraphs, virtually copying what he wrote on May 12 in covering April's surplus.
The nation's debt ceiling has been stuck at $18.15 trillion since mid-March. Since then, the Treasury Department has taken "so-called extraordinary measures to allow continued borrowing for a limited time" (i.e., engaged in accounting and bookkeeping gimmickry) to keep the official debt total at that amount. Treasury's ability to do this is now expected to run out in December. A few paragraphs from Crutsinger's report follow the jump (bolds are mine):
This shouldn't be a trick question, but to the nation's establishment press business reporters it apparently is: What is the current length of the U.S. economy's expansion?
The answer, after yesterday's reported 0.7 percent annualized contraction in U.S. Gross Domestic Product, is obviously zero. But that's not what Bloomberg News and reporter Sho Chandra, who has used her full first name of Shobhana in previous reports, would say. Despite three separate quarterly contractions since the recession officially ended in the second quarter of 2009, they, like the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger two months ago, want us to believe a fairy tale, namely that we're still closing in on six straight years of expansion.
On Tuesday, Associated Press reporter Martin Crutsinger celebrated the federal government's large April budget surplus, caused by "a flood of tax payments (which) pushed government receipts to an all-time high." He didn't mention that the tax payments were higher largely because of tax increases passed in 2013. It certainly didn't occur because of an improving economy — because it's not meaningfully improving.
Crutsinger also noted that the April 2015 result of $156.7 billion "was the largest surplus since April 2008," without telling us that the previous surplus was achieved despite (better argument: "because of") the Bush 43 tax cuts.
Tuesday evening, I wrote that there appears to be a need for an intervention among the economics writers at the Associated Press.
At the time, I was referring to how the wire service's Christopher Rugaber, in his dispatch on a trade group's upbeat business sentiment survey appearing about an hour after Martin Crutsinger's writeup on the horrible March trade imbalance, failed to report Crutsinger's relayed observation, based on the opinions of others, that the economy likely contracted in this year's first quarter instead of barely growing at the 0.2 percent annualized rate currently recognized.
It appears that someone might need to schedule an intervention with the Associated Press's economics writers.
In his dispatch published a half-hour after the government's March release on international trade at 8:30 this morning, the wire service's Martin Crutsinger quoted a normally upbeat economist who was singing the blues about the result's effect on previously reported first-quarter economic growth. Now, he said, the economy "undoubtedly contracted slightly in the first quarter" by an estimated 0.3 percent. But about an hour later, the AP's Christopher Rugaber ignored this assessment — and that of many others — in his writeup covering the 10 a.m. release of the Institute for Supply Management's Non-Manufacuring Index. Don't these guys talk to each other?
At the Associated Press today, Martin Crutsinger's coverage of the Census Bureau's March Factory Orders report admitted that a leading economic forecasting firm currently believes that the economy will grow at an annualized rate of just 1.9 percent in the second quarter.
Despite the fact that just about everyone who is anyone had until very recently been saying that the figure will be 3 percent or more, Crutsinger wrote once that achieving that mediocre 1.9 percent result would constitute a "rebound," and another time that it would be "a significant rebound." So much for genuinely great expectations.
On Thurday, the government, apparently as determined as the press to create good news where there is none, opened its March report on Personal Income and Outlays as follows: "Personal income increased $6.2 billion, or less than 0.1 percent." Yeah, it was so much less than 0.1 percent that it rounded down to 0.0 percent in current dollars in the table which followed. In real terms, i.e., after adjusting for inflation, personal income fell by 0.2 percent.
Naturally, the Associated Press, aka the Administration's Press, joined in on the spin. Excited over the fact that spending rose by 0.4 percent (0.3 percent in real terms) despite the income decline, AP's headline writers went all-in: "SPRING AWAKENING: US CONSUMER SPENDING ROSE IN MARCH." Martin Crutsinger's coverage was also predictably rosy, and of course played the weather card:
The so-called experts supposedly took March's worse than usual weather in many parts of the country into account when they predicted that this morning's March Construction Spending report from the Census Bureau would come in with a seasonally adjusted increase of 0.4 percent or 0.5 percent. Instead, the result was a decline 0.6 percent, "unexpectedly" sending that metric to a six-month low.
Nevertheless, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger, clearly having run out of substantive reasons to be optimistic, cited the weather as either a factor in March's result or its improvement as a reason why things really, really will get better later this year three different times (weather-related citations in bold):