by Bill McBride on 4/27/2012 12:11:00 PM
Friday, April 27, 2012
The GDP report was weaker than expected, however, on a positive note, final demand was decent. Personal consumption expenditures increased at a 2.9% annual rate in Q1, and residential investment increased at a 19.1% annual rate. Weather probably provided a boost to GDP - and PCE growth at this rate is not sustainable without more income growth - but this was still decent.
Investment in equipment and software slowed down to a 1.7% annual rate in Q1, but this slowdown is probably temporary. The largest quarterly contributions to GDP from equipment and software in this recovery have probably already happened, but I expect equipment investment to continue at a reasonable pace.
And investment in non-residential structures was negative in Q1. The details will be released next week, but this probably means investment in energy and power structures slowed in Q1 (this has been the main driver for non-residential structure investment over the last couple of years). However, based on the architecture billing index, I expect the drag from other non-residential categories (offices, malls) to end mid-year, so this negative contribution will probably end.
And there was another negative contribution from government spending at all levels. However, it appears the drag from state and local governments will end mid-year (after declining for almost 3 years).
A negative was that some of the increase in GDP was related to a positive contribution from changes in private inventories (this added 0.59 percentage points to Q1 GDP). This will probably be a drag for a quarter or two (swings in inventory are normal).
Overall this was a weak report, but it appears some of the drags will diminish over the course of the year - and that is a positive.
The following graph shows the contribution to GDP from residential investment, equipment and software, and nonresidential structures (3 quarter centered average). This is important to follow because residential investment tends to lead the economy, equipment and software is generally coincident, and nonresidential structure investment trails the economy.
For the following graph, red is residential, green is equipment and software, and blue is investment in non-residential structures. So the usual pattern - both into and out of recessions is - red, green, blue.
The dashed gray line is the contribution from the change in private inventories.
Click on graph for larger image.
Residential Investment (RI) made a positive contribution to GDP in Q1 for the fourth consecutive quarter. Usually residential investment leads the economy, but that didn't happen this time because of the huge overhang of existing inventory, but now RI is contributing. Sure - some of the boost could be weather related, but RI has clearly bottomed.
The contribution from RI will probably continue to be sluggish compared to previous recoveries, but the ongoing positive contribution to GDP is a significant story.
Equipment and software investment has made a positive contribution to GDP for eleven straight quarters (it is coincident). However the contribution from equipment and software investment in Q1 was the weakest since the recovery started.
The contribution from nonresidential investment in structures was negative in Q1. Nonresidential investment in structures typically lags the recovery, however investment in energy and power has masked the ongoing weakness in office, mall and hotel investment (the underlying details will be released next week).
Residential Investment as a percent of GDP is still near record lows, but it is increasing. Usually RI bounces back quickly following a recession, but this time there is a wide bottom because of the excess supply of existing vacant housing units.
Last year the increase in RI was mostly from multifamily and home improvement investment. Now the increase is probably from most categories including single family. I'll break down Residential Investment (RI) into components after the GDP details are released this coming week. Note: Residential investment (RI) includes new single family structures, multifamily structures, home improvement, broker's commissions, and a few minor categories.
The last graph shows non-residential investment in structures and equipment and software.
Equipment and software investment had been increasing sharply, however the growth slowed over the last two quarters.
Non-residential investment in structures decreased in Q1 and is still near record lows as a percent of GDP. The recent small increase has come from investment in energy and power. I'll add details for investment in offices, malls and hotels next week.
The key story is that residential investment is continuing to increase, and I expect this to continue all year (although the recovery in RI will be sluggish compared to previous recoveries). Since RI is the best leading indicator for the economy, this suggests no recession this year.
• Real GDP increased 2.2% annual rate in Q1