US Government Revenues Suffer Biggest Drop Since The Financial Crisis

On the surface, today's monthly budget statement was disappointing: in February the US Treasury brought in total receipts of $172 billion, versus outlays of $364 billion, resulting in a decicit of $192 billion, more than tha $190 billion expected (if in line with last year's $192.6 billion deficit). For the fiscal year through Feb. 28, the total US budget deficit was $349 billion, virtually identical to the $351 billion deficit over the same period in 2016 and set to keep rising this year and for the foreseeable future.

On a 12 month run-rate, the US deficit stood at 3.1% of GDP. A year earlier, that figure was a third less, or 2.2%.

However, something more concerning emerges when looking at the annual change in the rolling 12 month total. It is here that we find that, like last month, in the LTM period ended Feb 28, total federal revenues, tracked as government receipts on the Treasury's statement, were $3.275 trillion. This amount was 1.1% lower than the $3.31 trillion reported one year ago, and is the third consecutive month of annual receipt declines. This was the biggest drop since the summer of 2008. At the same time, government spending rose 3.8%.

Why is this important? Because as the chart below shows, every time since at least 1970 when government receipts have turned negative on an annual basis, the US was on the cusp of, or already in, a recession. Indicatively, the last time government receipts turned negative was in July of 2008.

One potential mitigating factor this time is that much of the collapse in receipts is due to a double digit % plunge in corporate income tax, which begs the question what are real corporate earnings? While we hear that EPS are rising, at least for IRS purposes, corporate America is in a recession.

How about that far more important indicator of overall US economic health, and biggest contributor to government revenue, individual income taxes? As of February, the YTD number was $611bn fractionally higher than the same period a year ago, and declining.

Finally should Trump proceed to cut tax rates without offsetting sources of government revenue, a recession - at least based on this indicator - is assured.