by Bill McBride on 5/18/2015 07:06:00 PM
Monday, May 18, 2015
From the SF Fed: The Puzzle of Weak First-Quarter GDP Growth
In late April, the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released its initial estimate of U.S. economic growth for the first three months of 2015. The report was very disappointing, as inflation-adjusted, or real, gross domestic product (GDP) edged up a mere 0.2% at an annual rate in the first quarter. This estimate was far weaker than many economists had forecast, and it raised concerns that the underlying economic recovery may have stalled. Such anemic growth is of particular concern to Federal Reserve policymakers considering when to begin normalizing monetary policy.Q1 will probably be revised down to a negative reading, but ... no worries!
However, a number of analysts have suggested that the reported weakness in first-quarter growth may have been exaggerated by a statistical anomaly (see, for example, Liesman 2015 and Wolfers 2015). Indeed, an unusual pattern has prevailed for some time in which first-quarter real GDP growth is generally lower than growth later in the year. This regular, calendar-based statistical pattern is a puzzle because the BEA seasonally adjusts the GDP data to remove such fluctuations. First-quarter seasonally adjusted real GDP growth should not be consistently higher or lower than growth in any other quarter. Accordingly, the anomalous pattern of generally weak first-quarter growth suggests that the BEA’s estimate of GDP growth for the first three months of 2015 may understate the true strength of the economy.
The application of second-round seasonal adjustment increases real GDP growth in the first quarter of 2015 from its initial published value of 0.2% to 1.8%. Taking this correction at face value, real GDP growth in the first quarter was stronger and much closer to the economy’s sustainable rate of trend growth.
The very weak initial estimate of first-quarter real GDP growth this year surprised many forecasters, in part because it was at odds with other fairly positive data, including solid employment gains over the past six months. We show that, although the BEA adjusts for seasonal movements at a disaggregated level, the published real GDP data still exhibit calendar-based fluctuations—that is, residual seasonality. After we apply a second round of seasonal adjustment directly to the published aggregate data, we estimate much faster real GDP growth in the first quarter of this year. We conclude that there is a good chance that underlying economic growth so far this year was substantially stronger than reported.
• At 8:30 AM ET, Housing Starts for April. Total housing starts increased to 926 thousand (SAAR) in March. Single family starts increased to 618 thousand SAAR in March. The consensus is for total housing starts to increase to 1.029 million (SAAR) in April.
Posted by Bill McBride on 5/18/2015 07:06:00 PM