Economists are slashing 4th-quarter GDP forecasts — citing poor holiday sales and warm winter weather

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Economists are slashing their expectations for fourth-quarter GDP growth as holiday sales come in lower than projected and utility output flounders.

Bank of America analysts cut their quarterly growth projection 0.2 percentage points to 2% on Friday, slowing from the third quarter’s 2.1% growth and matching the rate seen in the second quarter of 2019. December’s retail sales excluding auto climbed 0.7%, but control group sales in November and October were both revised to mild drops after initial reports showed healthy gains.

The control group consists of all sales except for car dealers, building materials, retailers, gas stations, office supply stores, and a handful of other categories, and is often used as a more precise way to measure consumer spending. The metric “is critical as it feeds directly into our GDP tracking estimate,” the BofA team led by Michelle Meyer wrote.

JPMorgan Chase echoed the claim on Friday, cutting its fourth-quarter real GDP estimate to 1.5% from 2% as retail data signaled “weaker goods spending.” The economic reading is also set to suffer from lower-than-expected utility use in the last months of the year, economist Daniel Silver added, driven by “the unusually mild weather” in December.

Even a Federal Reserve bank is hedging its expectations for year-end economic growth. The Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow indicator – which projects real GDP growth as major economic data is released – was lowered to 1.8% from 2.3% on Thursday following the release of December’s worse-than-expected retail metrics.

The central bank maintained its 1.8% estimate through Friday morning, noting that slowing personal expense growth was “partly offset” by an increase in residential investment. Construction data released Friday revealed housing starts jumped 16.9% in December to the highest level in 13 years, driven by low mortgage rates and resilient consumer confidence.

Numerous banks already cut their 2020 GDP estimates in mid-December after Boeing announced it would halt 737 Max production in January. The best-selling model has been grounded worldwide after two crashes between late 2018 and early 2019 killed 346 people.

The pause in inventory buildup will drag on GDP in the first quarter of the new year, JPMorgan said December 17, adding that the decision will cut roughly 0.5 percentage points from the benchmark figure.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin addressed the jet’s production halt and effect on economic growth on January 12. The official’s estimate for 2020 GDP skews higher than other economists’ but still took a hit from Boeing’s decision.

“For this year, we’ve been looking at 2.5% to 3%. As I said, it may be closer to 2.5% because of the adjustment of the Boeing numbers,” the Trump administration official told Fox News.

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