By Lenore Elle Hawkins via Iris.xyz

This morning we received the first estimate for Q1 2019 GDP, and it looked at first glance to be considerably better than was expected with the economy expanding at a 3.2% annual pace versus consensus expectations for 2.3% and growth of 2.2% in Q4 2018. Just don’t break out the champagne quite yet as right away we see reasons to dig deeper.

Net exports plus a build-up in inventories contributed 1.68% to GDP. That’s the biggest bump in 6 years and muddies the economic waters. We’ve now had three consecutive quarters of buildup in nonfarm inventories, likely in defense against further tariff increases. That buildup is a pull forward of growth from the future. The 103-basis point contribution from net exports in the face of ongoing cuts to global growth makes this unlikely to continue. The 46% annualized increase in food exports looks to be more about trade wars than sustainable improvements in trade. Despite the government shutdown, government spending, (primarily at the state and local level) contributed 41 basis points, driven primarily by 35 basis points at the state and local level in “Gross investment.” Given the condition of most government budgets, this isn’t sustainable.

Digging further into the details we find areas of weakness that are more in line with the weaker expectations:

  • Final sales to private domestic purchases fell to the weakest level since Q1 2016.
  • Disposable personal income was the weakest in 6 quarters.
  • Real consumer spending slowed to 1.2% on an annual basis, the weakest rate in a year with spending on those big ticket “durable goods” items falling -5.3%, the worst pace since the end of 2009.
  • Gross domestic purchases were the weakest in 3 years.

On the plus side, durable goods orders grew at the fastest pace in 7 months with a sign that business investment is rebounding. Perhaps on the hope that those China trade talks might actually get somewhere beyond hopeful sound bites that something wonderful is right around the corner? The bigger picture year-over-year factory orders data is less rosy, painting a picture of more slowing. Keep in mind that orders can be cancelled. Shipments for capital goods on a year-over-year basis is solid, but has been consistently slowing.

For a different view on the economy, we can look at how 3M (MMM) and Intel (INTC) have fared, both of whom are bellwether cyclicals. Both companies have seen their shares get pummeled recently thanks to their less-than-rosy outlook. Take a look at United Parcel Service (UPS) whose profits are down 17%.  What can be more reflective of the economy than deliveries?

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