KEY DATA: GDP: 3.2% (down 0.1 percentage point)/ Phila. Fed: +3.5 points/ LEI: +0.4%/ Home Prices (Over-Year): +6.6%/ Claims: +20,000
IN A NUTSHELL: “There seems to be no end to the strong data.”
WHAT IT MEANS: Another day of numbers, another round of strong data. The second revision to third quarter GDP showed basically the same growth rate that had been seen in the previous two iterations. That is really a surprise. There is normally a great set of changes as a broader sample of data come in. The changes were relatively modest, though there was a somewhat larger downward change to the gross domestic income measure. That seems to indicate that income growth is not quite as solid as the goods and services measure. Regardless, this was the second consecutive above-3% growth pace and it is consistent with the other data that are showing the economy is accelerating.
Will this strong growth continue? Even without the tax bill, there was every reason to think growth could hold up, at least for a while. The Philadelphia Fed’s early December reading of Mid-Atlantic manufacturing improved quite solidly. Importantly, confidence rose, most likely driven by a pick up in new orders. This area doesn’t have a lot of manufacturing, but the index does give us some insight into national trends and it is fair to say the sector is accelerating.
A second sign of strong future growth comes from the Conference Board’s Leading Economic Index, which rose again in November. The solid increase came on top of a huge, hurricane recovery increase posted in October. It is telling us that growth could accelerate over the next six months.
And then there is housing. The Federal Housing Finance Agency’s Home Price Index popped in October, mirroring the other home prices measures we have seen. The beleaguered Middle Atlantic region has finally joined the party, but the West Coast is where prices are simply soaring out of sight. In that area, we are probably in bubble mode.
Finally, there was a surge in unemployment claims last week. But that was on top of one of the lowest readings we have seen, so there is nothing to made of the jump. The labor market is tight.
MARKETS AND FED POLICY IMPLICATIONS: The year is ending on a high note. Growth is strong almost across the board. The impacts of the tax bill will not likely be seen before mid-year 2018 as the lower taxes show up in weekly paychecks, not all at once. Yes, some companies are giving out bonuses, but those only temporarily increase spending power. They look big, but for companies making billions, it is not a lot. Unless the bonuses are more widespread, they are not likely to do much for personal income. But raising the minimum wage does add to costs and income growth on a continuing basis. We need a lot more companies announcing that they are raising their minimum wage before we can conclude that spending will rise more solidly than it has been. Forecasts of 2018 growth are coming in and they range from about 2.5% to 3.5%. Oddly, I am pretty much in the middle, at 2.9%. I don’t usually wind up at consensus but that is where I am. In other words, next year is shaping up to be a really good one and it may even exceed the 2015 growth rate of 2.9%.