Odds Are Stacking Up Against Good U.S. GDP Report for First Quarter

The Commerce Department is set to report the first-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) at 8:30 a.m. EST on Friday morning. Odds are lining up against the economy, and the sentiment of fresh economic readings is signaling a less robust GDP number than we had expected even just a few days ago. The good news is that every economist is calling for growth that was better than in the fourth quarter. The bad news is that, when you factor in the price index, it is still growth that is well below an optimal situation.

For starters, Bloomberg is calling for GDP to come in at 3.1% and its economist range is 2.3% to 3.3%. The GDP price index is expected to come in lower at 1.4%. Dow Jones is calling for a reading of 3.2% on the headline GDP and 1.3% on the chain-weighted price index.

We recently gave a “Sell in May and Go Away” primer and blueprint, and this GDP report could certainly be a part of the cause-and-effect here.

Durable goods figures from the Commerce Department came in weak for the month of March just on Wednesday, and the durable goods report from February was unexpectedly revised lower. We believe that this was the final straw to lowered sentiment for GDP.

And then there is the continual reporting we see on Bloomberg TV for an earnings season scorecard. They show that earnings are managing to generally come in better than expected across the board. That sounds good on the surface, but the sales are actually coming in about 0.5% lower in general than expected. This matters, and it is one more feather in the cap for those looking for a weaker GDP reading on Friday. The consumer also had to deal with higher payroll taxes starting in the first quarter, and retailers said that this was hurting sales. Consumer spending is a key component of GDP. We still have not seen official estimates come down for GDP, but we consider this a formality and believe that sentiment is already lower.

The one point that may save the GDP report could be consumer discretionary spending. This has remained resilient even in the face of much consumer pressure and less robust consumer sentiment.

More supporting data to derive a weaker GDP expectation can be found from the following:

The United States is not the United Kingdom, but the fresh U.K. GDP reading was so weak that the growth might has well have been contraction as it officially avoided a triple-dip recession. Other readings from Europe have pointed to ever lower growth and even contraction, which is of course bad for U.S. exports and for international operations.

More weak data was seen from a national reading from the Chicago Fed for March.

Leading economic indicators are not exactly that leading, but this report also pointed lower for March.

The latest consumer sentiment report was from early in April, but this shows how the consumer deteriorated at the end of the quarter as well.

March industrial production rose only 0.4% in March.

Even the small business confidence reading fell in March.

Both ISM readings of manufacturing and non-manufacturing for March came in weaker than expected.

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