HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK
- The U.S. economy is barreling ahead with more momentum than we had expected. Our latest forecast upgrades real GDP growth to 3.0% in 2018, from 2.7% in March.
- 3% is difficult to sustain over the medium term. As the fiscal boost fades, higher interest rates weigh and structural constraints bind, growth in 2019 is set to slow.
- Even with slower growth, the U.S. is still set to out-perform its G7 peers. The main downside risk to the outlook is an escalating trade war. While this presents a serious risk to its trading partners that are dependent on access to the U.S. market, America has sufficient cushion to withstand the hit.
Let the Good Times Roll!
Our new quarterly forecast is titled Full Steam Ahead, which is an accurate description of our forecast. The American economy is barreling ahead with more momentum than we had expected. Real GDP growth is tracking 3.0% in 2018, revised up from 2.7% in our March forecast. This is a notable improvement from 2.3% in 2017, thanks in large part to fiscal stimulus.
A healthy economy is set to push the unemployment rate even lower over the coming quarters. This in turn will add to inflation pressures. Stronger economic momentum and firming inflation have prompted us to edge up our rate-hike expectation by an additional 25 basis points for this year, taking the upper end of the policy range to 2.5% by year end (see Financial Outlook).
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, 3% growth is difficult to sustain beyond a near-term cyclical updraft. The boost from tax cuts and government spending increases will start to fade next year. Add to that the reduced lift from monetary policy. The Fed has raised its policy rate 150 basis points over the past 18 months, and is expected to raise it 125 more over the next 18 months (Chart 1). Higher oil prices than in our previous forecast will also nip at consumer and businesses’ purchasing power. These cyclical concerns add to the underlying structural dynamics of the US economy. Even with an expected improvement in productivity growth, an aging population holds potential growth in the economy to roughly 2%.
All of these factors mean that on a quarterly basis growth is set to slow over the course of 2019, to 2.1% by the end of the year (Chart 2). Still, this should be kept in perspective. Even as the U.S. slows, it is expected to outpace all other G7 economies (see Global Outlook). And, when an economy is already running at 3%, the only real direction for it is to slow.
Now is the time in the economic cycle where so –called “animal spirits” can lead to excess risk taking, and sow the seeds of the next recession. For the U.S. it is as yet unclear what these unknowns might be. Indeed the factors that cause the next recession may come from outside the U.S.’s borders. But one potential risk is self-inflicted. An escalating trade war is a clear downside risk, particularly for the U.S.’s key trading partners (see impacts of auto tariffs on Canada), which would have knock on impacts at home. Even so, with the economy doing so well, it has sufficient economic cushion to absorb some negative shocks.
In an otherwise quiet week for economic data, we did get an update on the trigger of the last recession – the housing market. There a few signs of froth there. Housing starts continued their gradual upward trend in May. Residential construction has been on a stronger footing this year after weakness in multi-unit structures drove a lull in 2017. The existing home market, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing in May. Sales have trended down recently, as the market struggles with a lack of listings. Forward looking indicators suggests activity should improve in the months ahead. In time, construction of new homes should help, but improvement is expected to be gradual as affordability constrains demand.
Leslie Preston, Senior Economist | 416-983-7053
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