One of the (many) problems with using big increases in federal government spending as an economic stimulus tool is timing. You can’t appropriate and spend it fast enough to matter much during the downturn. Spending it years later, after the economy has already begun to recover on it own, then becomes an inflation worry.
There is a new CBO study, Implementation Lags of Fiscal Policy, that details the path of the money this time around. In spite of all tyhe talk we have seen about shovel ready projects not much of the money has actually made its way into the economy yet. As you can see in the figure above, except for HHS and the Dept. of Labor, less than 2% of the money appropriated to all other departments (Education, Transportation, Energy, …) has been spent. The total spent so far is just $24.6 billion out of $379 billion.
This chart details how much of the $787 billion in stimulus money will hit the economy each year over the next three years. As you can see, only 11% of the $308 billion appropriated to discretionary spending like highways, mass transit, energy and education will be spent by the end of this year. Overall, less than a quarter of total funds will be spent in 2009.
Why is this s problem? Because there are early signs of recovery coming in now every day. By the end of this year the recovery will be undeniably underway. That means next year (2010) and the year after will be periods of rapid growth and rising inflationary worries. That’s why bond yields have increased by more than a full percentage point in recent weeks with more to come over the coming months. And that’s one of the reasons why commodity prices have been rising so fast.
Investors should be very careful to avoid long-term Treasury bonds today