Chicago Fed: 3-Month U.S. Macro Trend Remains Sluggish In April

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Includes: DIA, QQQ, RINF, SPY
by: James Picerno

Economic growth in the US eased in April to a four-month low, according to this morning's update of the three-month average of the Chicago Fed National Activity Index (CFNAI-MA3). The reading for last month dipped to -0.22, the lowest since last December's -0.28 reading.

A negative value indicates below-trend growth, based on the historical record, but only figures below -0.70 mark the start of a recession, according to the Chicago Fed. By that standard, the US macro trend was sluggish, but the weak output - the weakest, in fact, for the year so far - is still well above the tipping point that aligns with economic contraction. Today's report follows a similar review via yesterday's update of The Capital Spectator's US business-cycle profile, which also reveals slower growth these days, but without triggering a new recession signal.

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Note that the monthly data for the Chicago Fed index popped sharply higher, rising to +0.10 for April - a dramatic rebound after the -0.55 data for March. Although the monthly figures are noisy and often misleading, the jump in April supports the narrative that economic growth in the second quarter is on track to rebound after a near-flat performance in Q1 GDP.

The case for raising growth expectations in Q2 also finds support in the current GDP nowcast via the Atlanta Fed. The bank's May 17 estimate for economic output in Q2 is +2.5%, a moderate pace that represents a substantial improvement over Q1's tepid +0.5%. The New York Fed's nowcast for Q2 also projects a rebound (as of May 13), but the expected growth for the April-through-June period is a softer +1.3%.