Explaining Southern California's economy

Economic growth still slow in the USA

NYSE trading floor

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Trades at the New York Stock Exchange. They'll probably take slow U.S. growth in stride and remain focused on troubles in Europe.

The Commerce Department today released data on the second-quarter performance of the U.S. economy, and the best word to describe that performance is "pathetic." The economy expanded by 1.5 percent, after growing by a revised 2 percent in the first quarter (up from the previously reported 1.9 percent).

It could have been worse (Double secret pathetic?). But for the first half of 2012, the economy is staging a repeat performance of 2011, when the economy grew at a rate of 1.8 percent for the entire year. 

Despite the bad news, the economy is still growing. That will keep the threat of recession at bay, even if many Americans, especially those among the ranks of the unemployed, feel like the Great Recession never went away. The U.S. is on the road to have a $16-trillion economy by 2012-13, by far the world's largest.

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June home sales are down in the U.S., but up in the West

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A construction worker installs a window in a new home in San Mateo, California. Home sales declined in June nationally, but rose slightly in the West.

The Commerce Department just released data on new home sales, and the data overall is not good. Sales fell by a worrying 8.4 percent in June. This erases last month's impressive gain of 7.9 percent (which was revised up slightly). The silver lining in this dark cloud is that compared to last June, sales are up nationally by about 15 percent.

Regionally, the Northeast was completely crushed, with a 60 percent decline in June from May. But the West held up with a 2.1 percent gain.

The news contrasts with recent speculation that the housing market in the U.S. is forming a bottom for falling prices (you have to be careful, though, about assuming that sales data and prices data are somehow connected.) 

There's another factor to take into account, however. As Reuters points out, housing inventories are "near record lows," at least where new homes are concerned. What's holding back a more robust recovery is the sluggish economy — it only grew at 1.9 percent in the first quarter and added on average less than 80,000 jobs in the second quarter. Plus, the markets are worried about the neverending eurozone crisis and its latest phase, the apparent collapse of Spain's financial system. 

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Sabbatical aside, John Bryson may have been out of a job soon

Obama Jobs

Susan Walsh/AP

Commerce Secretary John Bryson speaks at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012. President Obama earlier this year had asked Congress to grant authority to consolidate the Commerce Department and several other agencies.

John Bryson had a tough day behind the wheel on Monday in California. But if his President gets his way, he may not have much time left as Commerce Secretary, even if he returns from a sabbatical that he announced yesterday he would be taking.

The New York Times described Bryson as "one of the lower-profile members of President Obama’s cabinet but a well-known figure in California energy and business circles." Depending on how an Obama plan announced earlier this year to consolidate the Commerce Department and several other agencies goes, Bryson's profile could go from low to non-existent. This is from Government Executive:

In January, Obama announced that if Congress agrees to restore agency consolidation authority enjoyed by presidents from the 1930s to the 1980s, he would proceed to merge six trade and business-oriented agencies into one larger department.

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