America’s economy is slowing — but how much? On Wednesday, we’ll get a sense of how the trade war, a global economic slowdown, the GM strike, Boeing’s 737 Max problems and the fading effect of tax cuts have affected the world’s largest economy.
The US Commerce Department will offer its preliminary report on third-quarter gross domestic product – the broadest view of the American economy – at 8:30 am ET. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model estimates an annualized growth rate of 1.7% for the quarter, matching the forecast of economists polled by Refinitiv. The New York Fed’s Nowcast model estimates growth at a pace of 1.9%.
With the exception of the fourth quarter of 2018, quarterly GDP growth hasn’t been below an annualized rate of 2% for more than three years.
America’s economy spent pretty much all of 2016 in the vicinity of 2% growth. Back then, the Federal Reserve forecast the economic expansion would continue at that pace for the foreseeable future. But hiring and consumer spending sped up in late 2017, and the economy got a sugar rush from tax cuts early last year, sending growth above a rate of 3% in four of the past seven quarters.
The effects of stimulus is fading. Perhaps the United States economy is just reverting to the mean.
“The message here is that the economy has clearly slowed in 2019. But the question is how much has it slowed and what is the risk of this slowdown leading to a recession,” said Calvin Schnure, economist at the National Association of Real Estate Investment Trusts.
A recession isn’t expected to come anytime soon, though. An economy that is growing at a rate of 1.7% is still reasonably strong.
“There is a lot of noise in quarterly GDP data. But should be fairly clear that the US economy continues to grow,” added James McCann, senior global economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments.
The GDP number will come out just as the Federal Reserve meets – and just hours before the central bank announces its monetary policy decision, including whether or not it will cut interest rates.
The central bank has lowered interest rates for two meetings in a row to boost economic growth in the United States, though some Fed officials remain skeptical of the tactic. A weak GDP reading in the morning “could well prompt further Fed policymakers to move to the dovish camp and decide another rate cut is warranted,” said David Madden, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.
Prepare for a slowdown
The forecasts for a slower growth number have been telegraphed for quite some time: The waning economic boost from the Trump tax cuts, along with the pain of the trade war inflicted in particular on America’s manufacturing sector, are weighing on growth. The trade war has also hurt American farmers, technology companies and retailers.
So far, the American consumer has been spending enough to offset the sharp weakening in the manufacturing sector over the past months. Economists will be watching for whether consumer spending has been infected by weakness in manufacturing.
“The weakness in the global growth backdrop and the trade war are all part of the same dynamic. Businesses see both the uncertainty and also the lower demand,” said McCann.
That uncertainty makes it tough for companies to spend. Corporate capital plans usually have multi-year horizons. But with so much uncertainty, many such plans have been put on hold.
The month-long strike at General Motors (GM), and Boeing (BA)’s continuous issues surrounding its 737 Max are taking a toll and are also expected to hinder GDP growth. Boeing (BA) is the more important factor at play, as the plane manufacturer is the largest exporter in the country. So far, the company hasn’t abandoned its bestselling 737 Max production. But should it come to this, or should production remain lower than in the past, it would likely have a knock-on effect on America’s economy.
The good news, however, is those are probably temporary bumps in the road. But even if a trade-war truce is reached between the United States and China, the economy will need a bigger boost to rev up again.
Still, recession calls remain rather sparse, even though economists are certainly on the lookout for signs. With the slowdown expected to persist in the fourth quarter, it doesn’t bode well for 2020.
Next year could be rough for the American economy. “It will feel rocky, and there will be fear in the market that the [growth] cycle is coming to an end,” McCann said.