Kopitsian (and Other) Recession Indicators

I’m not of the mind that a recession is going to be avoided, despite increasing confidence this will be the outcome. However, it is hard to find indicators the recession is here, even when looking at measures Steve Kopits (of 2022H1 recession fame) has mentioned.

Figure 1: Heavy truck sales (blue, left log scale), civilian employment from CPS (pink, right log scale), Vehicle Miles Traveled (tan, right log scale), Petroleum Consumption seasonally adjusted by author using Census X13/X11 ARIMA (light blue, right log scale), and Gasoline Supplied s.a. by author (green, right log scale), all 2021M11=0. Source: Census, NHTSA, EIA via FRED, EIA STEO, and author’s calculations. 

As discussed in other posts, VMT and petroleum related measures have not been very useful in predicting NBER-defined recessions [1] [2] [3]. I think that these measures have also become less informative as work-from-home has increased in prevalence. Civilian employment, which Mr. Kopits also mentioned, (and which most macroeconomists agree has lower signal-to-noise ratio than NFP) is still rising.

Heavy truck sales is still strongly positive relative to 2021M11, although it is way off recent peak (by 7 percent).

While the Sahm rule indicator rose, it too (at 0.13) is still far below the trigger threshold (0.50).

I had wanted to add in SPAM sales, which I see some people refer to, but could not find a time series.



60 thoughts on “Kopitsian (and Other) Recession Indicators

  1. Moses Herzog

    Maybe Menzie mentioned SPAM in a mostly humorous way?? But he does seem give some credence to the motor homes sales, which wouldn’t necessarily be useful if one gave a passing thought to it, just looking at the surface without digging. But the motor home sales do seem to hold some meaning.

    I have a soft spot for SPAM. It had fed a lot of World War II army guys and fed a lot of low income people. And that is a very great thing. The problem is I can’t stand the taste of it. It ranks up there with macaroni and cheese for me (which I pretty much hate because of over-consumption as a child when my family was poor). I maybe only had macaroni and cheese 3 times after the age of 13 and I pour black pepper all over it when I do. They have SPAM at my favorite grocery store, and when I walk past it I feel this strange nonsensical urge to pick it up. But then I remember how the taste turns my stomach. Maybe I could try it with Jalapeno peppers sprinkled on top?? or some Wasabi smeared over the top?? I will think about this. Maybe next time I head to the store.

    I tried to look for some Spam consumption data. The closest I could get was “canned meat” data (a broader category I assume??) that Statista had, and Statista said one of the sources was Simmons National Consumer Survey. This somewhat surprises me, because of all the useless data the US military/ US Army keeps track of, you might think they had kept data on how much Spam they served. But then if the Spam served by the US Army is served/eaten by compulsion and not choice, I guess that data wouldn’t have much meaning here.

    According to SPAM’s website Esther Choi (some kind of celebrity chef??) likes SPAM. But I strongly suspect she says this just to turn a couple dollars. Maybe I am being unfair.

    Off-topic. I picked up gasoline Thursday for $3.43. Today I saw one station where it was $3.79. But still some stations had it at $3.49. It will be interesting to see where that goes about halfway into Autumn.

  2. pgl

    “I had wanted to add in SPAM sales”

    Wait for it – JohnH will be telling us that the lack of this series being reported is some partisan conspiracy.

  3. Macroduck

    SPAM alone is likely to be a poor indicator for the state of or outlook for the economy unless certain other factors are taken into account. Foremost among these confounding factors us our preference for obesity.

    It is true that our culture seems to prefer non-obese people, and that maybe true with regard to our preference for images of other people. However, there is a clear revealed preference for obesity in our personal behavior and in the results of that behavior. When we pull on our trousers, the biggest number wins.

    There is some evidence that, while many of us spend our recreational hours gazing at images of trim, lean people, we affiliate more closely with obese individuals in other aspects of our lives. In 2016, just under half of participants in the presidential election voted for Donald Trump. Chris Christy won the governorship in New Jersey and is currently the favorite Republican presidential candidate…among Democrats. Ted Cruz has held on to his Senate seat despite his, well, despite everything. As Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich was a feast for the eyes – feast enough for an army. Speaking of which, Dick Army was no sapling.

    So while I am never one to shy away from a novel data series, I think care is advisable in using SPAM as an economic indicator.

    1. Moses Herzog

      People are so mean to pork. All I can say is, Chinese pork dumplings are awesome man. Especially in the correctly made sauce.

      : )

      1. Moses Herzog

        Why you gotta be a SPAM hater?? Haters ain’t got no game man. Not to mention the fact ribeyes and New York Strip Steak is privileged. Haven’t you taken any Critical Meat Theory courses?? SPAM been trodden on for too long. SPAM-hater.

        : )

  4. Steven Kopits

    I am pretty comfortable with both my H1 2022 call and with the role of gasoline/diesel consumption and VMT as indicators of economic stress or comfort, as the case may be. I’d note that US oil and gas consumption remains depressed by about 5% compared to normal but hasn’t changed much in the last year or so.

    If instead you’d like to debate something ‘Kopitsian’ (quite a compliment actually!), here are a couple of items.

    The first of these is US Concedes Price Cap Defeat”

    Here’s an excerpt:
    Eric Van Nostrand, acting Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, continues to gamely defend the Price Cap. The matter is rapidly descending into farce, however, and the Biden administration had better come up with something more convincing, and soon. A likely scenario heading into the election is both sky-high oil prices — Goldman Sachs is forecasting $107 Brent for 2024 if Russia and Saudi Arabia hold their nerve (a fair bet) — and a blow out of the Urals price. Given that the G7 seems in no mood to enforce the Price Cap, we can expect the Urals discount to shrink, and a worse case scenario could put Urals as high as $100 / barrel for 2024. This is almost twice Russia’s average crude oil export price for the 2015-2021 period and sufficient to triple Russia’s military budget compared to the pre-war period.

    You’ll recall I called the Embargo and Price Cap “insane” in the comments section many months ago, and now we’re beginning to see why. It was badly designed policy from Day One (actually, about Day -120), and it needs to be properly fixed. Not clear that the Biden administration, and more to the point, the Fed, is up to it. The Ukrainians, meanwhile, are asleep at the switch.


    1. Moses Herzog

      Wait…… Kopits is against price caps on oil produced by governments that are violent and murderous against their bordering neighbors!?!?!?!?! This isn’t the Kopits I know. One of his in-laws is Korean and I know from the man himself he’s never punched her a single time. Not racist, case closed.

        1. Moses Herzog

          How do you tax transactions, that are happening 80% between Russia, India, and China?? How does your feckless and largely vacant brain propose we collect those taxes?? Did you also want to tax Brazilians every time they picked their nose sans Kleenex and tossed it onto their living room floor in their private residence?? I dare say, even CoRev, Peaktrader, or sammie had never typed anything so dumb. I would love to see Menzie do a post on that idiotic proposal.

          Do you think the legal sale of recreational marijuana in 23 U.S. states now has stopped underground/illegal (tax free) sales of marijuana in some of those same states to avoid the tax?? And you attack Uni profs for living in a bubbled world when they propose supposed unrealistic solutions to societal problems??

          Kopits, you say things that are so dumb, sometimes I think you work at it.

          1. pgl

            I bet little Stevie does not know that Russia’s oil profits tax rate is only 20%. Norway’s is 78%. Russia could do the same if Putin wanted to. But he doesn’t.

            Now maybe Stevie thinks we should follow Trump and put huge tariffs on Russian imports. Like that worked well.

        2. pgl

          Economic model? No Stevie – same old lying and stupidity from you.

          Moses got it right but I can you are too dumb to get it.

    2. pgl

      “I am pretty comfortable with both my H1 2022 call”

      Thanks like a NY Mets fan celebrating their World Series win for 2023. There was no recession but you insisted their was. Yea – you are indeed to world’s worst consultant.

    3. pgl

      I generally hate repeating myself but since you have decided to dress up John’s BS over the sanctions against Russian oil, let me provide this link one more time:


      Difference between Urals and and Brent oil price from December 31, 2021 to August 1, 2023(in U.S. dollars per barrel)

      As I told the Village Moron who serves Putin in the Kremlin this spread is still $16. Not $20 – $25 as we would like but not zero. And to think I said Princeton Steve understood this. Clearly I overestimated your intelligence and integrity.

      1. Ivan

        What has made this Biden policy so brilliant and effective, is that it doesn’t take the Russian oil off the market. It simply takes a substantial lump sum off from the profits that Putin can harvest on it. If Biden had tried to take the Russian oil completely off the markets, he would have driven prices way up and given Russia a much bigger profit per barrel (sold around sanctions) – and mostly just caused extra hardship on western countries. This way it is Russia that suffers.

        Something similar is about to happen with Russian agriculture exports. Ukraine has barely begun sea drone attacks, and yet managed to drive insurance prices on Russian Black Sea exports up. The minute they sink a ship with Russian export products, the insurance prices will go through the roof. We just need US to be ready to calm the waters – then Ukraine can get a green light for that.

        So far Putins attempt to interfere with Ukraines agriculture exports have had very limited success. So far it has not produced product shortage. Indeed, wheat prices have fallen even in the face of Russias failed attempt to stop Ukraine from exporting. There are so many different ways to export from Ukraine and Russia cannot block them all.

        1. baffling

          it seems to me folks like kopits are simply waiting in the wings ready to complain about anything. if biden takes action to reduce the amount income russia makes while still keeping the worlds supply of oil flowing, kopits complains that russia is still making money. if biden were to shut off oil from russia and drive up oil prices substantially, we would hear the same people complain about high oil prices and shout to stop the war. just like trump, kopits has the ONE solution and only he is able to see and implement this solution for the sake of mankind. just like trump, we should listen to kopits and implement his solution, even though neither has been able to achieve elected office to implement these solutions. trump failed and kopits never even tried to get elected. both seem to think a democracy should be run by unelected peddlers on social media.

          “I am pretty comfortable with both my H1 2022 call”
          please, steven, stop doubling down on stooopidity. you were wrong. simply admit it and move on. this is maga behavior you are displaying-never admit you are wrong.

          1. Moses Herzog

            @ Kopits
            Well, who on Earth can refute such solid logic?? Did you also want to type “The sky is red” and then just leave that there for us to digest??

        2. Ivan

          Ukraine just kicked Russia off the oil rigs near Snake Island (of “Russian War Ship Go Fuck Yourself” fame). Those rigs were both used for offensive purposes (to fire missiles at Ukraine) and also defensively to identify and intercept Ukraine’s maritime drones. This is a huge step towards increasing the Ukrainian forces ability to conduct drone wars in the Black Sea.

        1. Moses Herzog

          Those are at IEA, as pgi well knows. Nobody needs your garbage packed blog to get those numbers. Those congressional staffers read IEA, not some old senile man’s blog. I dare you to show us A SINGLE congressional staffer, Republican or otherwise, who publicly admits to even visiting your trash blog.

          1. pgl

            Everytime I bother to read his trash – I have to take a shower. I used to think the National Review was stupid but they look like Nobel Prize winners next to this clown.

          2. pgl

            Wait – you call me pgi and little Stevie calls me peeg?

            I have a new name for little Stevie patterned after Scott Van Pelt’s Stanford Steve. But in little Stevie’s case – the actual name is Stupid Steve.

        2. baffling

          i certainly hope they do not read it religiously. i have not seen where you present logical and reliable solutions to many problems on this blog, steven.

        3. pgl

          “The Urals discount, the difference between the Urals and Brent oil prices, has widened to more than $18 / barrel.” Got a data point right for a change. But that data point undermines your BS completely.

          I liked your title noting the Ural price is near $75. But you keep saying it is over $100. So thanks for admitting you are a serial liar.

        4. pgl

          “Russia’s inflation rate has been much debated. The Russian Central Bank is predicting 6.5% inflation for the year, which is inconsistent with interest rates at 12.5%.”

          Inconsistent? The real interest rate cannot be 6%? WTF do you come up with such incredibly stupid statements? DAMN!

    4. Moses Herzog




      “Estimated oil export revenues rebounded by $1 billion to $12.7 billion but were 43% lower than a year ago.”<<–April IEA Report

      "According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), since the Russian oil price cap has been put in place, the average price of Russian Urals crude oil has been below $60 per barrel on a monthly basis." <<—April IEA Report

      There's a graph on page 46 of the April IEA report. You can argue April is "dated" But I think it shows the policy has largely worked.

      Here is a small quote from the most recent August IEA report:
      "Russian oil exports held steady at around 7.3 mb/d in July, as a 200 kb/d decline in crude oil loadings was offset by higher product flows. Crude exports to China and India eased m-o-m but accounted for 80% of Russian shipments. Higher oil prices, combined with narrowing discounts for Russian grades, pushed estimated export revenues up by $2.5 bn to $15.3 bn, $4.1 bn below year-ago levels.”

      Excuse me for saying so, but $4 billion strikes me as significant lost revenues for Russian war spending. Judging from Kopits’ stance, one might mistake his core feelings as being for a Russian invasion of all of Europe~~does Kopits think Russian invasion of all of Europe would lower U.S. oil prices??

    5. pgl

      “a worse case scenario could put Urals as high as $100 / barrel for 2024.” Goldman-Sachs

      Boys and girls – here is what little Stevie forgot to tell you. The Urals price was $104/barrel in early March 2022. Sure the current $74 price is higher than the $56 price we saw a few weeks ago. Gee – oil prices vary over time.

      What does not vary? The dishonesty of trolls like Princeton Steve and JohnH.

      1. Steven Kopits

        If you’re Price Cap is $60, then Urals at $100-104 looks like something of a policy disaster, doesn’t it? And by the way, how do you think that affects Biden’s re-election chances?

        1. pgl

          “Urals at $100-104”

          Either you are a liar or stupid if not both. The current price is nowhere near $100. But do make up garbage as you go. It is the only thing you are good at.

        2. pgl

          You are blaming Biden for your incessant lies? Dude – your own blog notes the Ural price is way less than $100 and the Brent/Ural discount is 18%. I guess you do not even read your own worthless blog!

    1. Moses Herzog

      Kopits says: ” ……and it needs to be properly fixed. Not clear that the Biden administration, and more to the point, the Fed, is up to it.”
      Kopits goes on: “…Fed and Treasury…. mostly Treasury, actually.”

      Gosh, can we quote you on that Kopits?? Are you sure the crowd can follow?? You didn’t want to explain “the Fed’s deep involvement in enacting the oil price cap”?? DUMBASS

      1. pgl

        Stevie thinks the Ural price is about $100 a barrel? No – it is less than $75. Now I ask you – is he lying or is he really this damn dumb.

        1. Moses Herzog

          I actually think that’s a very good question (you probably meant it rhetorically, but I still think it’s a damned good question) and one I waver on. I lean towards Kopits being knowingly disingenuous, knows he’s lying, and tells people what they want to here ina kind of internet newsletter type of grafting. He’s like a small version of Breitbart is how I look at it. He’s worse than Barkley in my mind if that gives you a rough idea. I think because Professor Rosser’s huge ego, Professor Rosser had an ability to even make himself believe in his own mind he was telling the “truth”, when denying things he had said. In his own mind I think Professor Rosser saw himself as altruistic. He had a great ability to self-con himself that he was pushing towards the common good. I think Kopits is aware most of the time that he is indeed lying. So as much as Professor Rosser and I “went at it”, I see Kopits as much worse of the two actors.

    1. pgl

      Principle of Population (1798)
      • Population grows faster than productivity
      • Progress will be transient because
      population will catch up
      – Wages will fall
      – Low income groups will suffer
      – Population may fall
      • He’s been wrong so far!

      This is followed by a lot of data on oil markets followed by perhaps the dumbest transition to some bozo claims that what Malthus forecasted is what will happen in the future. Stevie – this is idiotic even for you. But I like the last bullet point as you have been wrong on everything, everytime.

      Look dude – your blog is a stupid waste of time. Stop promoting your BS here.

      1. baffling

        kopits is also the person who argued within the last few years that electric vehicles will not be impactful on the auto market. there was simply no way that ICE would be replaced by an electric motor. he got all kinds of things wrong on this, including the belief that ICE performance would always remain superior. and yet almost all automakers are transitioning to the EV platform. and electric cars outperform ICE in just about any way possible. there is not an ICE supercar that can outcompete a souped up electric vehicle on the market today. and this is only the beginning.

        and just as a reminder, every one of those electric vehicles can act as a battery backup to stabilize the electric grid. these vehicles are multitaskers.

        1. Ivan

          When someone seem to be wrong more times than the flip of a coin its time to ignore what they say or write. Kopits is never in doubt and rarely correct.

          As mentioned by pgl in the previous threat “RMI forecasts that what is already the cheapest form of electricity in history will roughly halve in price again by 2030, falling as low as $20/MWh for solar from over $40MWh currently”. At that price level it will become much less expensive to use electricity vs gasoline for propulsion. Maintenance of EV is a lot less. The difference in purchase cost of EV vs. ICE is going down a lot. Anyone who have ever seen the video of a Tesla sedan outperforming a Lamborghini in a car race will get a good laugh from suggestions that ICE is superior in engine performance.

          One of there basic mistakes that fool the less sophisticated thinkers, is to take current performance and price levels of new technologies, and use that to claim that it will “NEVER” outperform the old stuff. The new stuff is very likely to improve at a much higher rate than the old.

  5. Moses Herzog

    So let me give you guys just a small example, of how dumb this nation, America, is getting. I wanted to watch Baker Mayfield play in the Tampa Bay game today. I don’t have cable and they didn’t broadcast on the local antenna TV. So I hunt down the Tampa Bay broadcast on the internet, get lucky and find it. So the Tampa play-by-play guy, who BTW sounds like he’s at least 55 only going by the voice, says “This stadium is now US Bank Stadium, and they used to play over in Hubert Horatio stadium, where you played a few years right Dave??” Response: “That’s right Gene.”

    That’s what passes for American education folks. They can’t even handle contemporary politics, the years they lived themselves, or the names of one of the most famous stadiums in a league they’ve worked in and called games in for a combined 55 years, and the fat white idiot who does the play-by-play was born in 1945. Hubert Humphrey was this nation’s 38th Vice-President (when the IDIOT Tampa commentator and Florida U grad would have been age 20 and ran for U.S President when the play-by-play idiot would have been 23. He won the party nomination after Frank Sinatra sang at one of Humphrey’s campaign events, and ended up losing to…… Nixon. Nothing a college grad who lived those years might remember.

    God, and the boomers think young people are dumb~~”Stadium Hubert Horatio here in Minnesota” Never corrected himself BTW. “Hubert Horatio”…… MAGA voter no doubt. Probably happy Ron DeSantis is destroying libraries now.

      1. Moses Herzog

        Yeah, but what about that glorious Hambone Stadium?? Named after the famous Georgia University President Steadman Vincent Hambone. Is that a beautiful stadium or what?? I’ve called college football games for about 30 years. And I’ve always loved Hambone Stadium. Yes, I am here to explain football games and let the public know the sports news. As a public service….. Nothing like that Hambone Field in Athens. Well, maybe the now torn down “Hubert Horatio” in Minneapolis. I almost forgot.

        Well…… back to calling the radio game here for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oh!!! It’s a stepground for the Buccaneers!!! That’s the third stepground this game!!!!

      2. Moses Herzog

        Braves had a lot of problems with pitching rotation this season. Not a good sign. Better cross your fingers Kyle Wright can get it going when they call him up.

    1. Baffling

      “I wanted to watch Baker Mayfield play in the Tampa Bay game today.”
      Are you drinking again? Or do you simply enjoy the pain?

      1. Moses Herzog

        @ Baffling
        OK, you made me laugh Sir, because the truth in your joke IS funny, but he did win the game. It’s a height problem, not a heart problem.

  6. pgl

    Yea football announcers are not exactly rocket scientists. And being a football coach or running back does not mean one is entitled to serve in the US Senate. Just saying.

    1. Moses Herzog

      Lay off the Alabam-nians , would you?? For crying out loud. Kopits told me Alabama was his very next choice of residence if he hadn’t moved to the neocon stronghold of coastal Massachusetts.

      “According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), also known as The Nation’s Report Card Alabama ranks 39 in reading and 40 in math among fourth-grade students in the rankings from 2022. All ranks used in this article are based on the average scale score that NEAP gives each of the jurisdictions it collects data for.”

      Plus, Georgian Herschel Walker has told some of the most humorously entertaining cow-to-cow rape jokes I have ever heard. Nothing spells out savoir fair to the typical Republican voter like rape jokes on the campaign trail. Ask Judge Roy Moore or Vernon Jones.

  7. Willie

    I will admit to actually liking Spam. The kind that comes in a can. I’ll buy it, very rarely, and eat it very happily. And then several years go by before that happens again. The phone kind and email kind are unpalatable.

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