WaPo: Economy’s Decline Slowing, But Don’t Say That

This page-one Washington Post’s story doesn’t make much sense to me. Its premise is that Obama and Bernanke are getting ahead of the game by saying that the worst of the economic freefall may be over.

Or as the lede says:

The president and the Federal Reserve chairman voiced cautious optimism yesterday that the economy could be beginning to stabilize. But the economy wasn’t cooperating.

By “the economy,” the Post means two economic indicators released yesterday that had poor results. There’s no mention of other economic indicators over the last month or so, many of which, like bank profits, home sales in bust states, thaws in corporate-bond markets, etc., have shown signs of stabilization.

Which the paper acknowledges:

Their comments are consistent with an emerging consensus among those who track the economy. The pace of economic decline appears to be slowing — but the economy is still declining. There is a good chance that gross domestic product will continue shrinking, if at a milder rate, for at least one more quarter. And the job market is likely to remain poor for many months.

So what’s the problem here?

Look, I’m hardly bullish on the economy. But it’s unfair to criticize people for voicing optimism—not that we’re on the edge of boom times but that our slide is slowing—based on one day of contrary indicators.

Retail sales were down 9.4 percent from a year ago, while wholesale prices fell 1.2 percent. But the Post just drops those into the story without context. How much have retail sales been falling? How do the wholesale price results compare to previous months?

For this story to work, it would have needed that kind of information plus quite a bit more.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.