The Dow traded with little conviction on Wednesday following the release of a new batch of data which confirmed – contrary to President Trump’s frequent claims – that the US economy is not the greatest in history.
In fact, the country’s longest-ever economic expansion is grinding toward slower and slower growth, sparking warnings that a contraction waits on the horizon.
Wall Street’s major indices remained little changed during the morning session, continuing the trend from a hesitant futures session.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fluctuated around its previous close, falling 1.74 points or 0.01% to 27,069.68.
The S&P 500 edged 0.29 points or 0.01% higher to 3,037.13.
The Nasdaq also crawled toward a slight gain, adding 3.75 points or 0.05% to trade at 8,280.61
Gold slogged to a 0.17% increase, which raised the price of the yellow metal to $1,493.20, while oil dipped 0.18% to $55.44.
The stock market is on edge ahead of the Federal Reserve’s interest rate decision this afternoon, but even more important than that – investors and economists overwhelmingly expect a rate cut – is what the central bank signals about future policy decisions.
Chair Jerome Powell has said the Fed desires to “sustain this expansion,” but what measures the bank believes are sufficient to accomplish that policy goal all depends on the FOMC’s reading of the US economy, which continues to lag far behind President Trump’s growth target.
The White House budget predicts an annual growth rate of 3.2%, and judging by Trump’s Twitter feed, you’d think GDP had smashed even those bullish expectations. He fired off three tweets to that effect in less than 24 hours leading up to today’s GDP report, the most recent of which merely read: “The Greatest Economy in American History!”
However, Wednesday’s GDP dump does not seem to support Trump’s boast, at least on the surface.
According to the Commerce Department, US GDP grew at a rate of 1.9% in the third quarter, a minor dip from the second quarter’s 2% print.
The result beat economist predictions of 1.6%, but it dashes any stray vestigates of optimism that Trump will achieve his 3.2% annual growth target.
“Oh, we won’t get a 3-plus% growth rate for the year,” Diane Swonk, chief economist at Grant Thornton, told NPR. “That’s not going to happen.”
One reason third-quarter GDP beat economist estimates was that consumer spending jumped by 2.9%, suggesting that the slowdown has not yet stifled this last defense against a recession. Analysts say that strong consumer data has become more vital than ever for the economy’s outlook.
“If consumer spending misses a beat in the fourth quarter, there is little other support for the economy to fall back on,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco.
Unfortunately, there are indications that consumers are losing confidence in the economy’s trajectory and their own employment prospects. On Oct. 29, the CB Consumer Confidence index printed a 125.9, a slight decline from the previous month, and a few points below the consensus forecast.
A slew of data releases on Thursday and Friday will provide more insight into the health of the US consumer, with crucial reports on personal income and personal spending slated to drop tomorrow at 8:30 am ET.
Noting that business investment declined 3% for the quarter, stock market bear David Rosenberg warned that consumer data would be a lagging indicator of a contraction. Now that the business sector is in a “recession,” he said, consumer spending would inevitably follow.