Following the latest reports on housing starts (down 6.8% m/m during March) and manufacturing output (down 0.4% last month), the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow model showed an increase of just 0.5% (saar) in Q1’s real GDP. As I noted recently, the auto industry is a major soft patch in the economy. Sure enough, auto output fell 3.6% during March. Auto assemblies are down 7.3% over the past five months to 11.1 million units (saar) from last year’s peak of 12.0mu. The weather can be blamed for the drop in housing starts, but not for the weakness in auto sales and production.
There are other soft patches in the economy. For example, the ATA Truck Tonnage Index dipped 1.0% m/m in March, and is up by only 0.7% y/y. In other words, it has stalled at a record high over the past year. Sales of medium-weight and heavy trucks dropped 8.0% m/m in March and 19.0% y/y.
So it comes as no surprise that the Citigroup Economic Surprise Index (CESI) has plunged from a recent high of 57.9 on March 15 to 6.6 on Tuesday. These developments are likely to put pressure on the Fed to hold off on another rate hike for now, and on the Trump administration to move forward with its fiscal stimulus agenda. Treasury Security Steve Mnuchin said on Monday that tax reform might not happen until after the summer. I think the weakness in the economy will prompt a faster response by Washington.
By the way, there is a reasonably good fit between the CESI and the 13-week change in the US Treasury 10-year bond yield. The actual yield has dropped from a recent peak of 2.62% on March 13 to 2.17% yesterday. It seems to be heading toward the bottom end of my predicted trading range of 2.00%-2.50% for the first half of this year.