Slower Growth vs. Slow Growth

Manufacturing activity in the state of New York “improved in May, but at a slower pace than in April,” according to this morning’s update of the Empire State Manufacturing Survey from the New York Fed. Meanwhile, the outlook for U.S. economic growth softened a bit according to economists surveyed by the National Association for Business Economics. “NABE panelists revised their projections for economic growth in 2011 downward compared with their February projections,” says Richard Wobbekind, NABE president in a statement. “Real GDP is expected to grow at a moderate pace of roughly 3 percent in the current year and only slightly faster in 2012.”

The risk of a slowing rate of growth for the economy isn’t particularly shocking, given the recent jump in jobless claims. As for rounding up suspects, NABE’s Wobbekind notes:

The main factors restraining growth include high and rising commodity prices, uncertainty about future federal government economic policies, a tepid housing market, and financial headwinds. Panelists remain highly concerned about federal deficits and debt, and are increasingly concerned about rising commodity prices and inflation.

It’s still unclear if this slowdown is merely a statistical blip or something deeper. Fresh clues arrive with tomorrow’s update on housing starts and industrial production. But the week’s big number arrives on Thursday, with the update of weekly jobless claims. The consensus forecast calls for a slight decline to a seasonally adjusted 420,000, according to That’s still elevated, but any drop would be welcome at what’s shaping up to be another critical juncture in the spring.
For the moment, at least, forecasters are more cautious but they’re still not predicting outright trouble. A report released on Friday from the Philadelphia Fed, for instance, advised:

Growth in the U.S. economy looks a little slower now than it did three months ago, according to 44 forecasters surveyed by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Our panelists expect real GDP to grow at an annual rate of 3.2 percent this quarter, down from the previous estimate of 3.5 percent. On an annual-average over annual-average basis, the forecasters also predict slower real GDP growth over the next four years. The forecasters see real GDP growing 2.7 percent in 2011, down from their prediction of 3.2 percent in the last survey. The forecasters predict real GDP will grow 3.0 percent in 2012, 2.8 percent in 2013, and 3.3 percent in 2014, each somewhat lower than their respective predictions in the last survey.

The Philly Fed survey also noted that the “outlook for the labor market is mixed.” Exactly how mixed is now the focus… again. April’s growth in payrolls is suddenly ancient history.