Chicago Fed: “Slower Economic Activity In March”

US economic growth slowed last month, expanding at a rate that’s moderately below the historical trend, according to the March release of the Chicago Fed National Activity Index, a weighted average of 85 indicators. But the index’s three-month moving average (CFNAI-MA3) posted a somewhat brighter reading: -0.01 for last month. That’s in line with expectations and a signal that the economy is still expanding on par with its historical trend. Nonetheless, CFNAI-MA3 slipped a bit from the revised February reading of +0.12, a change that reflects evidence that the pace of US economic growth slowed last month.

Despite the weaker numbers for March, recession risk was low through last month, according to this index. The Chicago Fed recommends reading the 3-month moving average as follows: a value below -0.70 after a period of economic expansion “indicates an increasing likelihood that a recession has begun.” By that standard, today’s update confirms the low-recession risk signals that have persisted in the regular updates on these pages via the US Economic Profile (here’s last week’s update, for instance).

Although the economy delivered another round of modest growth generally in March, the weaker-than-expected rise in payrolls last month raises questions about the next phase for the economy—questions that resonate a bit deeper with today’s Chicago Fed update. For now, of course, the April economic profile remains a mystery, although the mystery is scheduled to start fading with next week’s updates on the ISM Manufacturing Index and employment report. For now, it’s clear that macro momentum has slowed. The only question: Will the deceleration spill over into April?