US economic outlook dims as capital goods add to weak data
May 26 2019 10:34 PM
Employees at Z Microsystems
Employees at Z Microsystems assemble servers in San Diego, California (file). Friday’s report showing lower capital and durable goods orders in April — in addition to earlier data on retail sales, housing and manufacturing — suggests the US economy is losing momentum.

Bloomberg / Washington

The outlook for the US economy is dimming after a report showed below-forecast business-equipment orders, adding to a string of weak data in other sectors.
JPMorgan Chase & Co cut its forecast for second-quarter economic growth to 1% from 2.25% and said the Federal Reserve’s next interest-rate move is equally likely to be a hike or a cut, instead of an increase, chief US economist Michael Feroli said in a note on Friday. Oxford Economics lowered its estimate to 1.3% from 1.6%, while Barclays Plc’s tracking forecast went down to 2% from 2.2%.
Friday’s report showing lower capital and durable goods orders in April — in addition to earlier data on retail sales, housing and manufacturing — suggest the economy is losing momentum. That’s even before President Donald Trump ratcheted up his trade war with China this month by raising tariffs on some goods and threatening more levies.
“The concern is that firms just don’t have a strong sense of what the rules of the game are going to be, and that kind of uncertainty in principle, and in practice, can cause firms to be more cautious about undertaking long-term investments,” Feroli said by phone. “So that is certainly a risk we’ve been worrying about, which might be starting to manifest itself in the data.”
IHS Markit’s Macroeconomic Advisers lowered its tracking estimate for second-quarter growth by 0.2 percentage point to 1.7%, while the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow tracker stood at 1.3%.
Fed officials have stressed in recent weeks that they don’t see a strong case for a rate move in either direction, though markets expect a cut this year and Trump has been pressuring the central bank for a deep reduction. Feroli’s note on Friday is titled “Deteriorating Q2 GDP should put Fed on watch.”
The Commerce Department report on Friday showed a proxy for business investment — non-military capital goods orders excluding aircraft - dropped 0.9% in April from the prior month, exceeding the decline expected by analysts in a Bloomberg survey. March data was also revised down.
The broader measure of bookings for all durable goods, or items meant to last at least three years, fell 2.1%, slightly below economist estimates, and March was revised lower.
Other recent reports for April showed retail sales unexpectedly declined, factory output was below forecasts, sales of previously owned homes fell and permits for single-family homes hit the lowest in almost two years.
“Durable goods orders for April displayed broad-based weakness, largely in-line with expectations. Yet given sharp downward revisions to March, the net outcome of the report was considerably bleaker...BE continues to project current quarter GDP at 2.0,” said Carl Riccadonna, US economist.
On the positive side, consumer confidence has remained upbeat amid gains in jobs and wages that probably held firm in May.
Reports out next week will give more colour on consumer spending and the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge in April, along with trade and pending home sales. US central bankers said in minutes of their most recent meeting that they expect to be patient on interest-rate moves for “some time” amid muted inflation.
The weakness “does look relatively contained to the manufacturing sector,” said Jeremy Schwartz, US economist at Credit Suisse Group AG. The labour market has held up well, suggesting that any contagion “does look limited for now and that’s the real thing we’re worried about,” he said.

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