Economic Data

Economic reports released in June 2018, largely reflecting economic activity in May, showed continued solid economic growth in the U.S. and provided evidence of a pickup in growth from seasonally weak first quarter levels.

The U.S. economy grew at 2.0% in the first quarter, based on the third revision to estimated gross domestic product (GDP), slightly below the consensus estimate of 2.2% and well below the near 3% growth of the prior three quarters. Persistent problems with first quarter seasonal adjustments and a lull in consumer activity after some spending was pulled forward into the fourth quarter weighed on first quarter growth, but have led to expectations of a rebound in the second quarter. The modest downward revision to first quarter growth was driven by slower spending on services by consumers and an inventory adjustment, which is expected to lift second quarter growth.

As of June 30, Bloomberg consensus for second quarter GDP growth stood at 3.4% (quarter over quarter annualized), up from 3.1% at the end of May. The expected rebound is being supported by the roll-off of temporary factors including bad weather, in addition to fiscal stimulus put in place from the new tax law and the federal spending bill passed in March. A healthy job market, strong manufacturing and business confidence surveys, and the new tax law are all expected to give economic growth a boost over at least the next couple of quarters.

Inflation readings inched higher in June but generally met expectations. Headline readings were pushed higher by rising energy prices, so increases in core readings excluding energy prices were smaller. The core consumer price index (CPI) excluding food and energy increased 2.2% year over year; the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) preferred inflation gauge, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) deflator, increased 2.0%; and the prices paid component of the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) manufacturing survey rose more than expected to its highest level since April 2011. Wage growth accelerated slightly but remained within its 2018 range, as average hourly earnings increased 2.7% year over year in May, up from April’s 2.6% increase.

Labor markets remained healthy enough to potentially put further upward pressure on wages and keep the Fed on its gradual interest rate hiking path. The economy added 223,000 jobs in May, well above consensus expectations of 190,000 and a solid pace for the current later stage of the business cycle. Meanwhile, jobless claims remain near fourdecade lows despite increasing slightly over the past two months.

Retail sales growth accelerated in May, rising 0.8% versus April, double the consensus growth estimates and a 6.4% year-over-year increase. The increase, which came despite higher prices at the pump, was broad based with 10 of 13 categories showing growth. The data, even excluding volatile auto and gasoline sales, provided a clear sign that consumer spending has picked up in the second quarter after a soft start to the year. A healthy job market, wage gains, and tax cuts continue to support consumer spending.

Manufacturing activity remained robust in May, based on data released in June, despite ongoing global trade tensions. The ISM manufacturing index accelerated to 58.7 in May, up from the April reading of 57.3 and above consensus expectations at 58.2. This data continues to indicate expanding factory activity and to signal solid corporate profit growth. Reduced corporate tax rates, incentives for capital purchases in the new tax law, strong earnings, and high business confidence readings signal a favorable outlook for capital investment.

The Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index (LEI), an aggregate of 10 leading indicators, rose 0.2% in May and 6.4% year over year, slightly below consensus expectations and the prior month but still consistent with continued growth in the U.S. economy and low odds of recession in the coming year. New manufacturing orders and interest rate spreads were the biggest contributors, while building permits detracted most.

Central Banks

During its June 12–13 meeting, as expected, the Fed raised the fed funds rate 25 basis points (0.25%) to a new range of 1.75-2.00%. The Fed also raised its guidance for future hikes, i.e., the “dot plot,” with the median dot pointing to four hikes in 2018 rather than three. The Fed also raised its estimates for 2018 GDP growth, lowered the unemployment estimate, and raised the inflation forecast. The slightly hawkish change to forecasts and statement language, and the tone of the press conference, indicated to markets that a September rate hike was likely.

The European Central Bank (ECB) announced it would end its bond purchases (so-called quantitative easing) by year end as expected. On the other hand, in a slightly dovish development, ECB Chief Mario Draghi pledged to not raise interest rates until at least summer 2019 and that the benchmark rate would remain at zero as long as is necessary thereafter, depending on the data. TheBank of Japan maintained the status quo, as expected, with negative short term rates, long-term rates near zero, and continued unabated asset purchases.

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