A 'false dusk' for the American economy

For the third year in a row, the American economy suffered a poor first quarter. Andrew Van Sickle explains why things aren't quite as bad as they seem.

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The US will light up later in the year

For the third year in a row, the American economy suffered a poor first quarter. GDP expanded by an unexpectedly low 0.6% on an annualised basis between January and March 2016, down from 1.4% in the final three months of 2015. Consumption growth slowed, even though disposable income rose by almost 3%, and business investment disappointed.

In 2014 and 2015 poor weather was to blame for a weak start to the year. This time round the weather was fine, but the data are still "likely to represent another false dusk", as Roger Bootle of Capital Economics puts it in The Daily Telegraph. A key problem was an 86% annualised drop in mining investment, a factor that will fade as commodity prices rebound.

Meanwhile, up-to-date surveys are moreupbeat manufacturing activity reachedits second-highest level in eight months inMay, for instance and financial conditionspoint to a rebound. Bank lending has beengrowing at around 8%. The labour marketis strong, which bodes well for continuedconsumption, the lion's share of GDP.

Other statistics also look encouraging.The budget deficit is down to just 2.4%of GDP and there is no fiscal tightening planned, unlike in Britain, says Bootle. Theweakening of the dollar should reduce theextent to which net trade lessens GDP. Alltold, it looks as though the US is heading for growth of about2% again this year.

Compared to previous recoveries, this is"hardly exciting" but it's hardly disastrous either. As in 2014and 2015, investors should ignore the first quarter.

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