Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Slower Q4 Growth, (But) Higher Consumer Confidence

Financial FAQs

The growth in the U.S. economy in the final quarter of Barack Obama’s presidency remained at 1.9 percent, held down by a bigger trade deficit even as consumer spending rebounded strongly. In fact, Q4 GDP growth slowed in part because consumers are spending more, thus boosting imports (which is subtracted from GDP), while exports have been weaker due to the stronger US dollar.

This is while the Conference Board's consumer confidence index continues to make new post-election highs and new cycle highs at a 114.8 February level, which beats consensus estimates and makes for a strong 3.2 point gain from January.

But how long will this ‘Trump’ enthusiasm effect last, with his historically low approval ratings for a new president (at least among Democrats and Independents), as well as his failure to start his term with a burst of substantial legislation, as Barack Obama did, writes New York Times Op-ed columnist David Leonhardt?
“The political scientist Matt Glassman in a recent tweetstorm had the best summary I’ve seen,” said Leonhardt. “First, it is radically unusual that party Senators are opposing the President AT ALL. It’s basically unprecedented,” Glassman wrote. “In a normal presidency, party Senators would be on TV constantly, pushing the President’s message and defending his policies.”
The government’s second look at gross domestic product in the fourth quarter showed a bigger increase in purchases by consumers than initially reported: 3 percent vs. 2.5 percent. What Americans spend has the biggest influence by far on GDP (as much as two-thirds of GDP), and the official scorecard for the U.S. economy.

Yet the increase in what consumers spent was offset by somewhat smaller gains in business investment and local and state spending, revised government figures reveal. As a result, GDP was unchanged from the original estimate.

Consumer confidence is rising in tandem with retail sales. Retail sales are making a breakout of their own. It's an upward revision to what was already a strong December, now at a 1.0 percent surge. This goes in the books as the best December since 2004, reports Econoday. Retail sales have now posted five straight monthly gains in a streak that was last matched 3 years ago, back in early 2014.

Graph: Econoday

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence report included an 8 tenths dip in those saying jobs are currently hard to get to a very low 20.3 percent, a reading that points to strength for the February employment report coming this Friday. Expectations for future jobs are also strengthening with more, 20.4 percent, more opening up and fewer, at 13.6 percent, seeing less jobs ahead.

Strength in jobs sentiment also makes for strength in income expectations where the spread between optimists and pessimists (18.3 vs 8.2 percent) is a very healthy 10.1 percentage points.

Other details include an uptick in buying plans for autos and no change in inflation expectations, which are at 4.9 percent, soft for this particular confidence reading. Higher confidence has to be the major reason consumers have opened their pocket books, but how long will this last? Much of it is due to initial enthusiasm that President Trump can carry out his agenda announced in last night’s congressional speech.

That is the question, with so many intelligence scandals and conflicts of interest surrounding him. He has to first prove he can lead his own party, which isn’t the case so far.

Harlan Green © 2017

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