Stocks broke their four-week winning streak, closing mixed after the release of a surprisingly low estimate of second-quarter economic growth. For the week, the S&P 500 lost 0.07%, the Dow fell 0.75%, the NASDAQ grew 1.22%, and the MSCI EAFE added 2.36%.1
The preliminary estimate of Q2 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth showed that the economy grew a paltry 1.2% last quarter versus the 2.6% growth expected.2 Investors were understandably disappointed as they had hoped for a resurgence after a slow first quarter. Professional economists were also surprised. The New York Fed had forecasted GDP growth of 2.1% and the Atlanta Fed had predicted 2.3% growth.3 Why the surprise?
Digging deeper into the data, we find that the disappointment came from an unexpected fall in business inventories. On the positive side, the drop may boost future economic growth as businesses rebuild their stockpiles. Consumer spending was strong, growing 4.2% over the previous 12 months, and accounting for nearly all the GDP growth we saw.4
So, though the headline number was a letdown, the underlying trends in consumer spending, labor market growth, and higher savings rates could set up a banner third and fourth quarter.
During last week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting, the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy makers voted to hold rates steady, surprising no one. Citing recent economic data, the central bank said that “near-term risks to the economic outlook have diminished,” setting the stage for the next rate hike.5
Will rates increase in September? December? Or will the Fed wait until 2017? We don’t know. Wall Street bets on future rate hikes suggest that most traders don’t think the Fed will move until December if they don’t wait until 2017.6
On the positive side, the Fed seems confident enough in economic growth to cut back on stimulus. On the negative side, speculation around the timing of future rate hikes will continue to be a major market theme this year and may stoke additional volatility.
This week, investors will be watching Friday’s July labor market release and digesting more corporate earnings reports. We’ll keep you informed.
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