Popular Economics Weekly
“Economic activity was suppressed in the first quarter due largely to the West Coast port disruptions and difficult weather patterns across the Northeast, but the economy is expected to gain momentum throughout the spring and reach previously anticipated levels by year-end,” said a just released Fannie Mae’s Economic & Strategic Research Group report.
Is this a repeat of 2014, when growth surged for the rest of the year? It is what happened in 2014, due to last year’s deep freeze. In fact, it should be a repeat, as consumers aren’t spending much in Q1, the weather is as bad—whether blizzard, flood, or drought in the west—and Congress may be as gridlocked in ideological warfare as ever, and is therefore unable to do more harm to growth that it has in the past.
Graph: Trading Economics
We started out 2014 with a negative GDP growth rate of minus -2.1 percent. But it jumped to 4.6 and 5 percent in Q2 and Q3, such was the pent up demand from those very good jobs numbers. Just in the last 12 months 3.1 million jobs have been created, and consumers are in an almost ebullient mood. But consumers have to stop saving so much of their increased earnings, if that is to happen.
Fannie believes there’s also another ingredient to boost growth. An improved housing market as incomes improve and interest rates stay near record lows. “Our forecast calls for an increase in economic growth to 2.9 percent for 2015, which is a slight downward adjustment from our prior forecast but solid improvement nonetheless,” said Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan
Stronger retail sales gave an indication of the future. Sales of goods and services in March rebounded 0.9 percent after dropping 0.5 percent in February. The market consensus for March was for a 1.1 percent boost. Excluding autos, sales gained 0.4 percent, following no change in February. Expectations were for a 0.6 percent increase. Gasoline sales dipped 0.6 percent after a 2.3 percent increase in February. Excluding both autos and gasoline, sales rebounded 0.5 percent after declining 0.3 percent in February.
However, the Conference Board’s Index of Leading Indicators is not so optimistic about future growth. Its 12 components predicted slower growth over the next 6 months. “In the negative column are building permits which, Thursday's disappointing housing starts report, fell sharply,” said Econoday.” This is a reminder that housing, despite some hopeful signs, has yet to boost economic growth. And declines in the factory workweek and for factory orders are reminders that the manufacturing sector, due in part to weak exports (and strong dollar), may now be pulling down economic growth.”
Let’s hope Fannie Mae is right. “Although we are beginning this year at a more modest pace compared to the above-trend numbers seen at mid-year 2014,” says the report, “the country’s aggregate income has benefitted from the improving labor market, which, combined with low gasoline prices, should help drive higher auto sales and overall consumer spending throughout 2015.”
So it may just be the gloom of winter’s cold that has been holding back economic growth in Q1, especially housing, and that more buyers will enter the housing market this selling season.
Harlan Green © 2015
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