There’s a good chance the U.S. economy will perform solidly this year, experiencing a growth pickup from 2016.
Why? I see two key shifts helping to propel growth higher, albeit within the context of broad structural trends keeping growth rates lower than in prior economic cycles. Changes to the U.S. demographic profile and rapid technological change cannot be altered meaningfully, and are likely to hold down growth. Still, within a range of “what is possible,” there are reasons to be optimistic about the U.S. economy in 2017.
Since the November election, both consumer and chief executive officer confidence levels have improved remarkably amid expectations of more fiscal stimulus. This should translate into greater spending, and economic growth, in the year ahead. Indeed, the Conference Board’s index of consumer confidence expectations index is a very strong leading indicator of real year-over-year Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE), as the chart below shows. Expenditures noted on the PCE drive roughly 70% of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), according to our research.
The U.S. industrial recession is ending
Market performance bears out the idea that there was a persistent industrial recession in the U.S. over the last few years, amid a broader regime defined by central bank accommodation, low growth and low inflation. However, goods-producing sectors now appear to be emerging from this long-term recession into positive growth territory.
Since last September, we have begun seeing signs of life in the U.S. manufacturing, industrial production and trade sectors, as major central banks have shifted policies to let economies and inflation run hotter. And since the November U.S. election, these signs of life have only strengthened. For instance, the fourth quarter of 2016 saw considerably stronger hiring in the goods-producing sectors than the remainder of last year. Leading indicators imply industrial sector growth should continue over the course of 2017, with the potential implementation of lower taxes, increased fiscal spending and resulting stronger goods consumption. We believe this manufacturing recovery, alongside consistently solid service sector growth, will be a key driver of stronger U.S., and global, growth in the year ahead.
Resulting labor market strength in 2017 should help the U.S. unemployment rate march toward the low-4% region by year end and put upward pressure on wages. Organic wage growth, alongside the implementation of minimum wage hikes, will likely only further reflate the U.S., providing an economic backdrop that justifies the Federal Reserve (Fed) increasing rates at least two times in 2017.
Data over the coming months may certainly press the Fed to move rates higher at a quicker pace going forward, meaning moderately more aggressive tightening that could potentially outweigh fiscal stimulus efforts. In the end, we greatly hope policymakers can take a balanced approach between growing fiscal and receding monetary policy stimulus in the year ahead, allowing interest rates to slowly normalize at the same time that growth and inflation move to healthier, higher levels.
Finally, there are still abundant risks around the world that could derail global growth and markets, dampening the U.S. outlook. A spike higher in the U.S. dollar could present a very significant challenge to China and many emerging markets, for example. Further, there are plenty of political risk events coming in 2017 in Europe, to say nothing of unforeseen events. Still, for now, we see better U.S. growth prospects ahead.