Economic Data FAQs

Investors are sifting through a deluge of backlogged data after a historic U.S. government shutdown. As data have caught up, many reports have missed consensus estimates, stoking fears that Wall Street may be overlooking a slowdown in the U.S. economy [Figure 1].

To help allay those fears, we’re addressing some questions we’ve received about the economic landscape recently, and provide our thoughts on what to look for in gauging economic health.

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Key Takeaways From Fourth Quarter Earnings

Earnings growth slowed in the fourth quarter but was still solid. With two-thirds of S&P 500 Index companies having reported results so far, corporate America has delivered solid earnings growth—in the mid-to-high teens—for the quarter. However, slowing global growth and trade tensions have challenged the outlook, setting up slower earnings gains in the coming year. This week we provide key takeaways from fourth quarter earnings season, and update our 2019 earnings outlook.

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Feeling Confident?

Deteriorating confidence over the last several months has soured the economic landscape. About four months ago, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index reached an 18-year high. Since then, the gauge has dropped about 18 points, its biggest three-month decline since 2011. Sentiment’s swift decline has caused some to wonder if a drop in confidence could be self-fulfilling, as lower confidence could weigh on consumer spending, and consequently, on output. Historical data show that the U.S. economy has entered a recession an average of 19 months after a peak in consumer confidence, and a drop in sentiment has been a warning sign for past economic cycles [Figure 1].

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That Was The Easy Part

2019 is off to a roaring start, as the S&P 500 Index gained 7.9% for its best January since 1987. Stocks’ strong January comes on the heels of the worst December in 87 years. What happens now? This week we will discuss why we see signs that point to higher prices, why the easy gains have likely already occurred, and what several key hurdles lie ahead.

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The Fed’s Policy U-Turn

The Federal Reserve (Fed) just delivered a widely expected but important monetary policy decision. On January 30, policymakers decided to leave interest rates unchanged. More significantly, they removed language from the Fed’s policy statement that “some further gradual (rate) increases” would be consistent with economic conditions and added language that they would be “patient” when determining future rate adjustments. Markets cheered the significant shift in tone: The S&P 500 Index rose 1.6%, its biggest gain on a Fed day since December 2014, and the first time it has gained on the last day of the policy meeting since Jerome Powell took over as Fed chair.

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