Short-seller Jim Chanos of Kynikos Associates is bearish on the US economy. Consumers might say that they’re “feeling better”, but the data reveals “weak consumer spending numbers in both cars and housing, which are big drivers of the economy”. And “there are portents of even worse things when you look at state and federal tax receipts, which are down”. This could all just be “a soft spot”. But Chanos is concerned that consumers are spent – “people have bought their cars and remodelled their houses and done a lot of things that one does in an economic recovery”.
Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump’s plans to boost infrastructure investment via public-private partnerships is “another sort of fake fiscal news”. The problem is that “because private investors need high rates of return, these deals generally haven’t been good for anybody”. All that happens is that “consumers end up avoiding the toll roads or using different parking facilities if you raise the rates too much”. So while such projects will be “great for Wall Street investment banks”, he’s sceptical about how much growth they’ll create.
The big three economic drivers are still housing, cars, and healthcare, warns Chanos. And of those, “housing has stalled, cars have turned down, and healthcare is possibly about to turn down”. Meanwhile, employment looks precarious in some sectors, with “Nike laying off 2% of its workforce”. Even if this is just a short-term blip, with interest rates still sitting at near 0%, there’s not much the Federal Reserve could do to help bolster the economy. The only real solution is “new spending, like government spending on infrastructure”.