The weakest employment gain in a year, slumping stocks and the European crisis won’t stop the U.S. economy from maintaining its expansion this year and next, according to a Bloomberg News survey.
Gross domestic product will increase by 2.2 percent in 2012 and by 2.4 percent in 2013, the median of 70 economists surveyed from June 1 to June 5 shows. The estimates are down 0.1 percentage point from those issued last month.
“We have to bet the economy will continue to be the way it’s going, which is slow growth,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Among the biggest positives is that consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, will hold up, the survey showed, as households make progress in repairing finances and rising bank profits help increase access to credit. The rate of economic growth will still not be enough to reduce unemployment, which is projected to end the year at 8 percent.
“It won’t be a recession, but what we have is not OK,” Silvia said. “We don’t have the kind of growth we expect at this stage of the business cycle.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index at one point this week dropped 10 percent from its April peak on growing concern that Europe’s sovereign-debt crisis will force some countries to leave the euro area. In addition, a so-called U.S. fiscal cliff is coming at the end of 2012 when a number of tax-and-spending changes will take effect unless Congress acts.
The S&P 500 Index rose 2.3 percent, the biggest gain of 2012, to 1,315.13 at the 4 p.m. close in New York on speculation policy makers will act to spur global growth. The European Central Bank today left the benchmark interest rate on hold at a record low of 1 percent.
Reports today showed German industrial output in April fell more than economists forecast and Spanish production had the biggest drop in more than two years, adding to signs of a deepening economic slump across the euro area.
Silvia is among economists predicting Federal Reserve policy makers will do more to spur growth at their meeting later this month. While the central bank is unlikely to pursue another round of asset purchases, Silvia said they will probably extend Operation Twist, a program started in September to lengthen the maturities of assets already on its balance sheet. The plan expires at the end of this month.
“They have to appear ready to help the economy,” Silvia said.
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta President Dennis Lockhart said today extending Operation Twist is an “option on the table” in response to audience questions after a speech in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “There is capacity to do more,” he said.
The Fed said today the economy maintained a moderate pace of growth as factory output rose and the real-estate market improved. “Overall economic activity expanded at a moderate pace” from early April to late May, the central bank said in its Beige Book business survey, which is based on reports from its 12 district banks. “Hiring was steady or increased slightly.”
Household purchases in the U.S. will grow 2.2 percent this year and next, according to the latest median forecast, 0.1 percentage point less than in the May survey. Consumer spending rose in April following a first-quarter pace of growth that was the fastest in more than a year.
Same-store sales in May topped analysts’ estimates at retailers from Target Corp. (TGT:US), the second-largest U.S. discount retailer, to Limited Brands Inc., the owner of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie chain. While the pace of automobile purchases slipped in May from the prior month, it was still up 17 percent from a year earlier, according to data from Ward’s Automotive Group.
“The consumer can carry this 2 percent recovery, but is unlikely to give us stronger growth,” said Aneta Markowska, chief U.S. economist at Societe Generale in New York. “We can call it a sideways economy. It’s still a very anemic recovery.”
The housing market, a laggard in the expansion, is also reviving. Starts through the first four months of this year were 24 percent higher than the comparable 2011 period, and home values in 20 cities fell in the 12 months ended March at the slowest pace in more than a year.
Some recent reports have been less rosy. Orders to factories unexpectedly declined for a second month in April, pointing to a deceleration in manufacturing as the global economy weakens, Commerce Department data showed this week.
Employment gains have cooled from a high this year of 275,000 in January, according to Labor Department figures. Payrolls rose 69,000 in May, less than half the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists, and following a revised 77,000 rise in April that was smaller than initially estimated. The jobless rate climbed to 8.2 percent from 8.1 percent.
The slowdown in hiring does concern economists like Joshua Shapiro, whose growth estimates are lower than the median forecast.
“Employment is going to be very subdued,” said Shapiro, chief U.S. economist at Maria Fiorini Ramirez Inc. in New York, because the U.S. is “not immune” from the European crisis, and “there aren’t any real dynamic drivers of growth.”
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said yesterday it’s unlikely that Europe will damage the U.S. The American economy will avoid a recession “unless events in Europe develop in some way that spills over here big-time,” Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., said at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
Economists are betting the U.S. will avoid plunging off a fiscal cliff in 2013 as lawmakers reach a compromise in budget negotiations to avert a recession. Tax breaks will probably be extended for most Americans and spending cuts will be restrained, helping the economy to keep growing, they said.
The so-called cliff includes the expiration of income-tax cuts first enacted under President George W. Bush, the end of payroll-tax reductions and automatic decreases in government expenditures, which would clip a combined 3 percentage points from growth if allowed to kick in next year, according to a Bloomberg survey taken May 22 to May 24. Instead, as lawmakers find common ground, the damage will be limited to 0.8 point, sustaining the expansion, the survey showed.
Economists in the latest Bloomberg survey put the odds of a recession in the next 12 months at 20 percent, up from 15 percent in the May survey.
Businesses bracing for any fallout from the looming fiscal cliff include industrial equipment-maker Eaton Corp. (ETN:US)
“You will get some concern as people get toward the end of this year, and they’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Alexander Cutler, chairman and chief executive officer at Eaton, said at a May 31 conference. “That’s why you’re seeing a lot of economists with a little weaker first quarter than they perhaps were talking a year ago for the first quarter of 2013.”
“Most people understand what’s got to be done,” Cutler said. “You’ve got to get some political will to make it happen.” Meanwhile, the response from companies would be to “stay lean and keep your inventories taut,” he said.
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