KEY DATA: GDP: +2.3%; Consumption: +2.9%; Investment: -0.6%; Private Domestic Demand: +2.5%; Consumer Inflation: +2.2%; Excluding Food and Energy: +1.8%/ Jobless Claims: +12,000
IN A NUTSHELL: “Moderate growth and a slight firming in inflation don’t provide either side of the rate-hike debate with much ammunition.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Yesterday, the Fed hinted, slightly, at a bias toward raising rates in September, but they didn’t send a particularly strong message. One of the reasons is that the economy continues to grow at a moderate pace. Second quarter GDP came in a little less than expectations. Keep in mind, the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which crunches the numbers, completed the first round of a massive revision of growth and the way the data are seasonally adjusted. The first quarter of this year, which looked like it contracted by 0.2%, is now seen as having grown by 0.6%. So we started the year out above where we thought, which makes the gain a little better – though nothing spectacular. Second quarter growth was powered by strong vehicle demand. But households bought nondurable goods and spent a fair amount on services. In contrast, business investment declined. Much of that came from a drop in equipment spending, which is probably the oil-patch retrenchment. Housing added nicely to growth, the trade deficit helped as it narrowed a little and inventories played a modest role in slowing activity. The federal government continues to do whatever it can to kill the economy but at least state and local governments are spending again. There was a new measure created that reflects private domestic demand as it excludes trade, inventories and government spending. It rose solidly. This will be watched closely as it relates to what is happening in the domestic economy. On the inflation front, the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index rose at an annualized pace that should make the Fed members happy. Even excluding food and energy, it was near the Fed’s target. Now it just has to keep that up.
Jobless claims rose last week but the level and 4-week moving average remain at historic lows when adjusted for the size of the labor force. The July employment report, which comes out at the end of next week, should be pretty good.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The economy is not booming along. But that doesn’t mean it is soft either. It is growing fast enough to keep job gains at a level so that the unemployment rate will continue declining. Going forward, while it is not likely that spending on vehicles will be as strong as it was in the spring, stability in the oil patch should lead to a pick up in business investment. My expectation is that we should see growth at or even in excess of 3% over the next two quarters – but we don’t have any proof of that yet. For the Fed, the key numbers may be private domestic demand, which is growing solidly, and consumer inflation, which is slowly accelerating. Everything considered, this report really doesn’t add much to the argument over whether the Fed should hike sooner or later. Data over the next two months retain their primary position in the decision process.