KEY DATA: LEI: +0.2%/ Phil. Fed: -14.5 points/ Claims: -3,000
IN A NUTSHELL: “Strong growth this quarter should be followed by another quarter of solid growth.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The economy is strong, but will it continue that way? It looks likely. While the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index rose somewhat modestly in May, it is still pointing to better growth ahead. The gains were in most components of the index, which indicates the economic expansion remains broad based. Still, as the report states, “the current trend, which is moderating, indicates that economic activity is not likely to accelerate.”
Manufacturing activity in the MidAtlantic region moderated in early June, but that is really not a surprise. The index is wildly volatile and it soared in May. Orders continued to expand, but not as robustly. Hiring remained very strong and employees are being asked to work longer. Surging shipments led to a thinning of order books, which does need to be watched. Looking forward, optimism continues to fade. While it is still high, it is coming back to more normal levels. That said, the special question this month was on production and respondents indicated current output has been rising sharply and activity is expected to accelerate going forward. Hiring should be strong in the summer, if firms can find the workers.
Jobless claims fell modestly last week, indicating the labor market remains tight. Given how low there are, it would be hard to see them drop much more.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: There may be some headwinds forming. Clearly, the tax cuts have created a huge amount of stimulus that will carry us through the rest of the year and well into next, but what do we do once the impacts fade? That is when confidence about the future sets in and there is a lot of chaos in Washington that is causing optimism to moderate. Of course, that just means we are backing down from the exuberance that has gripped the consumer and business community since the passage of the tax changes. Nevertheless, issues regarding trade and immigration, which directly affect businesses, are not viewed as being helpful. Growth will likely come in above 3% this quarter and next, but to keep growing at that pace, firms have to invest and an uncertain world is not a desirable one to make big capital spending decisions.