Heavy Week of Economic Data – Mixed with a Positive Bent

Numerous tier one economic data releases captured the market’s attention last week.  Overall, the data were broadly positive with backward-looking indicators showing expected weakness and more forward-looking indicators showing improvement and, in some cases, outright strength.  First quarter U.S. economic growth as measured by GDP indicated a seasonally adjusted annualized gain of only 0.1%.  Many economists expected some weakness due to the harsh weather experienced in January and February, but a near contraction in the economy caught many by surprise.  The underlying components of the report showed a rise in consumer spending that was offset by declines in business spending and exports, both of which may have been due to the weather.  The rise in consumer spending is consistent with the strength in the labor market, as shown by the employment report released on Friday.  This report, which is generally the most anticipated monthly release in the bond market due to the Fed’s focus on employment, showed an increase in employment of 288k during April, the highest gain since 2012.  All underlying sectors showed increases and the unemployment fell 0.4% to 6.3%. Offsetting these positive headlines were a decline in the labor force participation rate and flat wage growth versus March.  All in all, the data paint the picture of an improving consumer, which was one of our pillars of growth heading into 2014.  In the coming months, we’ll be watching to see if business spending picks up as well.  If it does as we expect, then our call for full year GDP growth approaching 3% during 2014 will be within reach, despite the slow start to the year.