Friday, April 24, 2015

Merrill Lynch forecasting 1.5% GDP in Q1

by Bill McBride on 4/24/2015 07:59:00 AM

From Merrill Lynch:

We are forecasting GDP growth of 1.5% in 1Q, suggesting the economy hit a soft patch at the start of the year. Business investment looks particularly weak with a likely decline in nonresidential structures investment, as suggested by the monthly Census data, and sluggish growth in equipment investment. We also look for the trade deficit to widen, reflecting the stronger dollar and weaker growth abroad. There is room for surprise with both the investment and trade figures, however. Most importantly, the BEA does not have estimates yet from the Census Bureau on March trade and construction spending, creating room for interpretation from the BEA. Moreover, the port shutdown on the West Coast disrupted activity, adding additional uncertainty for both trade flows and business investment. Elsewhere, we look for consumer spending to increase 2.0% in 1Q. Both auto sales and core control retail sales improved through the quarter after the slow start. We also expect services spending to look stronger, owing in part to greater spending on utilities given the winter weather. Residential investment is likely to be little changed as a decline in housing starts offsets a pickup in existing home sales.

It is important to remember that there is scope for error in forecasting the first release of GDP since the BEA does not have complete data for the month. Indeed, it is not unusual for the first release of GDP to miss the consensus forecast by a full percentage point in either direction. We would argue that there is additional uncertainty this quarter given the potential drag from the harsh winter weather and port shutdown in February.
The Atlanta Fed is forecasting:
The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the first quarter of 2015 was 0.1 percent on April 16, down from 0.2 percent on April 14.
Ouch.