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May 17, 2007
Soft, Not Too Soft
This morning's email from the Goldman Sachs Global Markets Research Group contains this assessment:
The recent industrial news, including April US industrial figures yesterday, have been positive, especially as it reduces the probability of one of the tail risks in the market, i.e. too soft growth. Nevertheless, we think the market remains too optimistic about US growth trends going forward. This is highlighted in the current Blue Chip Consensus, which shows US GDP growth rebounding from 1.3% in Q1 (which as the US Daily discusses overnight is likely to be revised down) to 3% as soon as second half of this year.
If our US growth views prove correct, the market may yet need to revise down its growth expectations. In that regard, it is striking how growth expectations in the equity markets (as captured by our Wavefront US growth basket) have continued to grind higher.
So, while we are comfortable with our view of a US soft landing, markets may need to adjust to a less optimistic macro reality than is priced in. This potential downward adjustment could prove to be one of the several road bumps for risky assets in coming quarters.
Not everyone will have to revise down those expectations. The economists queried for last week's Wall Street Journal forecasting survey seem to (at least broadly) share the Goldman view:
On the whole, the 60 economists predict gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, will grow at a 2.2% annual rate this quarter. Over the second half, they expect growth of about 2.6%, which is a slight reduction from what they had forecast in a survey conducted last month. They don't expect growth to reach 3% until the second quarter of 2008.
Certainly the voices of Fed chairs past and present, while not endorsing a particular forecast, are aligned with the no-tailspin crowd. From Bloomberg:
The Fed chairman maintained his forecast that the slump in housing won't have a broader impact on the economy. "We do not expect significant spillovers from the subprime market to the rest of the economy or financial system,'' Bernanke said.
Fed officials this year have cited the housing recession as a main risk to growth, which was the weakest in four years last quarter. Bernanke's comments today reflect the consensus of policy makers that the downturn in housing is unlikely to cause consumers to cut spending. Former Fed chief Alan Greenspan also said that subprime problems aren't spreading to lower-risk loans.
"The prime market is doing reasonably well,'' Greenspan, who retired in January 2006, said today at a meeting hosted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in Atlanta. "Some people are holding off on purchasing homes. Even so, we are getting a gradual rise in the prime market.''
Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to be doing pretty well, thank you. Back to the Goldman boys:
We do not expect the prolonged period of sub-trend US growth that we foresee to cause major problems for the rest of the world. Recent data has shown further evidence of global decoupling with softer US economic news on the one hand (soft retail sales), and robust growth dynamics in the rest of the world, particularly in Europe and China (Q1 GDP growth in Euroland was above consensus and the April activity data for China have been strong).
However, this begs the question of how bad it would have to get for the global decoupling theme to unravel?
In our latest Global Economics Weekly, we extended the spill-over analysis we conducted last year to study the growth experience of other major economies (Japan, Germany, UK and France) conditional on whether US economy is contracting (i.e. real growth on qoq terms is negative) or expanding (i.e. real growth on qoq terms is positive)...
... Overall, our analysis supports our thinking that as long as US growth remains in expansion mode (which we forecast), other major economies should be able to decouple.
According to a report in todays the Wall Street Journal, some rather astute folks think it may be the other way around:
Early last year, [chief investment officer at Pacific Investment Management Company William H.] Gross's outlook for the U.S. bond market hinged on housing. "We did our homework," he says. "We sent out scouts into middle America, down to Florida." They did make some correct calls, such as predicting a drop in long-term interest rates last summer.
What Pimco didn't foresee was the impact on the U.S. of the strength in the global economy, led by China and the rest of the Asia. Mr. Gross says they recognized there was inherent strength abroad. But they counted on issues such as the U.S. trade deficit and increasing leverage around the world to have "snapback potential like a rubber band" that would restrain growth and allow the Fed to lower rates. That didn't happen.
Either way, the soft-landers appear to be feeling their oats.
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