GDP Growth Downshifted in Q1: Week of April 23 – 27

Slower growth in consumer spending pulls back economic expansion during early 2018. Here are the five things we learned from U.S. economic data released during the week ending April 27.

#1The U.S. economic growth decelerated during Q1. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ advance estimate of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) had the U.S. economy expanding at a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of +2.3 percent. While this was the 16th consecutive quarter of GDP growth, it was the most modest pace of economic expansion in a year. The biggest culprit was a slowdown in the growth rate of consumer spending, which contributed only 73-basis points to Q1 GDP growth after having added 275-basis points during the final three months of 2017. Most other GDP components made positive contributions: fixed nonresidential investment (+0.76), change in private inventories (+0.43), net exports (+0.20), and government expenditures (+0.20). The only component that did not make a positive contribution was fixed residential investment, which had made neither a positive or negative contribution. The BEA will release its estimate of Q1 GDP growth twice over the next two months.2018 Q1 GDP contributors-042718

#2Economic indicators point to the economy expanding at a slower rate in March. The Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI), a weighted index of 85 economic indicators, shed 88-basis points during the month to a reading of +0.10. Forty-four of the 85 economic indicators made positive contributions to the CFNAI. Only two of the four major categories of economic indicators made net positive contributions (those associated with production and sales/orders/inventories) while measures tied to employment and personal consumption/housing pulled down the headline index. Experiencing a far less significant decline was the CFNAI’s three-month moving average, losing four basis points to +0.27. A reading above 0.00 is indicators of economic growth greater than the historical average.

#3Sales of both existing and new homes increased in March. Sales of previously owned homes grew 1.1 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted annualized rate (SAAR) of 5.60 million units, per the National Association of Realtors. This was 1.2 percent below the year-ago sales pace. Sales grew in the Northeast (+6.3 percent) and Midwest (+5.7 percent) but slowed in the West (-3.1 percent) and South (-0.4 percent). Inventories remained extraordinarily tight but improved during the month—the 1.67 million homes available for sale at the end of March was a 5.7 percent gain from the prior month but still 5.7 percent fewer than that of a year earlier and translated into a mere 3.6 month supply. The median sales price of $250,400 represented a 5.8 percent increase over the previous year. Despite the upturn in home sales activity, the press release noted the “woefully low” supply of homes that was causing prices to rise “above what some would-be buyers can afford.”

The Census Bureau estimates the seasonally adjusted annualized sales pace of new home sales was at 694,000 in March, up 4.0 percent for the month and 8.8 percent over the past year. Virtually all of the month-to-month gain occurred in the West, where new home sales surged 28.3 percent. The 301,000 new homes available for sale at the end of March matched that of February, was 13.2 percent larger than that of a year earlier and was the equivalent to a 5.2 month supply. The median sales price of new homes was $337,200 in March, up 4.8 percent from the same month a year earlier.

#4Two surveys paint slightly different (if still solid) pictures of consumer sentiment. The Conference Board’s Consumer Sentiment Index added 1.7 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 128.7 (1985=100), leaving the measure near its post-recession high achieved in February. The present conditions index added 1.5 points to 159.6 while the expectations index gained 1.9 points to 108.1. 35.2 percent of survey respondents characterized current business conditions as “good” while only 11.3 percent saw them as “bad.” Similarly, 38.1 percent of consumer perceive the availability of jobs as being “plentiful” while 15.2 percent see them as “hard to get.” The press release noted that only six percent of consumers were “expecting their incomes to decline over the coming months,” the lowest percentage saying so since December 2000.

Losing pace was the Index of Consumer Sentiment, as measured by the University of Michigan. The index shed 2.6 points during April to a seasonally adjusted 98.8 (1966Q1=100). This was a full point improvement from the preliminary April reading reported a few weeks earlier and left the measure 1.8 points ahead of its year-ago mark. The current conditions index dropped 6.3 points to 114.9 while the expectations index pulled back by 4/10ths of a point to 88.4. The press release noted the survey respondents mostly had positive opinions about the recently enacted tax reform policies but were more pessimistic about the effects of recently proposed import tariffs.

#5A surge in aircraft orders led to a jump in durable goods orders in March. The Census Bureau reports that new orders for manufactured durable goods surged 2.6 percent during the month to a seasonally adjusted $254.9 billion. This was the fourth increase in durable orders over the past five months. Civilian aircraft orders swelled 44.5 percent during March, leading to a 7.6 percent increase in overall transportation goods orders. Net of transportation goods, however, new orders were unchanged for the month. Also gaining during the month were new orders for primary metals (+1.4 percent), computer/electronic products (+1.3 percent), and electrical equipment/appliances (+0.1 percent). Falling were new orders for machinery (-1.7 percent) and nondefense capital goods net of aircraft (-0.1 percent). The latter is a proxy for business investment and has declined in three of the past four months.

Other U.S. economic data released over the past week:
Jobless Claims (week ending April 21, 2018, First-Time Claims, seasonally adjusted): 209,000 (-24,000 vs. previous week; -43,000 vs. the same week a year earlier, and the fewest since December 1969). 4-week moving average: 229,250 (-6.0% vs. the same week a year earlier).
Case-Shiller Home Price Index (February 2018, 20-City Index, seasonally adjusted):  +0.7% vs. January 2018, +6.8% vs. February 2017.
FHFA House Price Index (February 2018, Purchase-Only Index, seasonally adjusted): +0.6% vs. January 2018, +7.2% vs. February 2017.
Agricultural Prices (March 2018, Prices Received by Farmers (Index (2011=100)): 94.9 (+4.5% vs. February 2018, +0.9%).

The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of Kevin’s current employer. No endorsements are implied.

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