Best columns: Business
Making sense of a mixed-up economy
Robert Samuelson The Washington Post
If you’re not confused by this economy, “you’re not paying attention,” said Robert Samuelson. No matter where you look, contradictions abound. GDP rose at an annual rate of about 1 percent in the first half of this year, and that lackluster growth suggests the U.S. “could be on the brink of a recession.” But labor market figures “depict a booming economy,” with an average of 200,000 new payroll jobs a month in 2016. It’s just as murky elsewhere. Corporate profits dropped 5 percent in 2015 and continued to shrink this year. “No matter. Stocks are trading near record highs.” The housing market just had its best month for sales of single-family homes since October 2007. Even so, far fewer homes are being built now than before the recession, and many potential homebuyers have been priced out of the market. But “the largest uncertainty is the Federal Reserve,” which is struggling over what to do with all this conflicting data. Right now, the Fed looks poised to raise interest rates, a sign of confidence in the economy. But the once powerful central bank’s influence may be waning. After years of Fed policies meant to jump-start growth, we’re still stuck with a boring and mystifying recovery that’s not terrible, but hardly impressive. Perhaps we should “call it the Snooze Economy.”
Get ready for the electric car surge
Christopher Mims The Wall Street Journal
“Electric cars will be here sooner than you think,” said Christopher Mims. Only one in every 150 cars sold in the U.S. last year had a plug and a battery. But as with other technological shifts, it might look like nothing is changing “until it seems as if everything is changing at once.” Consider batteries. A typical electric vehicle today costs $30,000, about $3,000 less than the average new gasoline-powered car, and goes about 100 miles per charge. Next year, “you’ll be able to get double that range for just a little more money.” And as the battle heats up between electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids—Volkswagen and BMW have promised that all their models will be available as hybrids by 2025—prices will inevitably be driven down. The steady proliferation of charging stations should also make electric vehicles more tempting to drivers who worry about running out of juice on the road. ChargePoint, the world’s largest maker of electric-car charging stations, already has 30,000 stations in its network, compared with about 90,000 public gas stations in the U.S. Americans typically keep their cars for 11 years, so consumers won’t switch en masse to electric cars as rapidly as they adopted smartphones. But if you head to a showroom in a few years’ time, expect to be invited to test-drive a shiny new plug-in.