The U.S. economy expanded at an annualized pace of 0.7% in the first quarter, the Commerce Department reported this morning. That’s the slowest pace in three years. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg were looking for growth of better than 1%. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model had forecast growth of 0.5%
The Wall Street reaction was to look past the report. First quarter growth always seems to be below the eventual annual rate because, Wall Street economists argue, there are problems with the seasonal adjustments the Commerce Department makes to GDP statistics in the quarter. And growth in consumer incomes continues to be solid with the Labor Department reporting today that average hourly earnings climbed 2.7% in March, about even with the pace of the last twelve months. (But real disposable personal income rose at just a 1% rate in the quarter.)
Today the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index closed off 0.19%; the small cap Russell 2000 index was lower by 0.94%, and the NASDAQ Composite was just about even with a 0.02% decline. Gold climbed 0.28% on the day to $1269.40 an ounce. The euro gained 0.23% against the dollar to $1.0898.
There were some disquieting items in the GDP report that you ought to put aside for future consideration. Consumer spending, 70% of the U.S. economy, rose at just a 0.3% annual rate. That was the worst performance since 2009. Economists had been looking for growth in consumer spending of 0.9%. Final sales at private domestic purchasers, which strips out sales to governments, changes in inventory, and shifts in trade, rose at a 2.2% rate after a 3.4% climb in the fourth quarter. Inflation picked up with the GDP price index, excluding food and energy costs, rising at a 2% rate, the fastest in the last four quarters. That number, at least, won’t cause anyone at the Federal Reserve to delay the next interest rate increase.
According to the CME FedWatch tool, which looks at the Fed Funds futures market to calculate the odds of a move in interest rates by the Fed, there’s a 94.7% chance that the Fed will leave rates alone at its May 3 meeting. But FedWatch gives 66.6% odds on a move of 25 basis points or more at the central bank’s June 14 meeting.