by Connor Darrell, Head of Investments
Markets (and politicians) were given reason to cheer on Friday as the first (of three) Q2 GDP estimate(s) showed a 4.1% annualized rate of economic growth, closely in line with expectations. U.S. equities (as measured by the S&P 500) moved slightly higher on the week but underperformed their international counterparts which benefitted from an apparent easing of trade tensions between the U.S. and the European Union. Bond yields inched higher, and the 10-year treasury is now close to re-testing the psychologically important 3% mark.
More than 50% of S&P 500 companies have now reported Q2 earnings, and while there have been some high-profile disappointments (Facebook, Exxon Mobil), Factset is reporting a blended earnings growth rate of 21.3%. We expect strong earnings growth to continue for the rest of 2018, as the benefit of tax reform continues to inflate year over year comparisons.
Breaking Down GDP
Four percent GDP growth is an excellent headline number and is the highest year over year growth rate in U.S. GDP since 2014. Under the hood, the key drivers of increased growth in Q2 were American consumers, who bounced back strongly following a disappointing first quarter that was likely impacted by bad weather. All data seems to suggest that consumption (the largest component of GDP measurement) is quite healthy. And while not a component of GDP, M&A activity in 2018 is at an all-time high as businesses are digging into their deeper pockets to make strategic acquisitions. That businesses (who typically take a long-term, forward-looking view when making decisions) are willing to take risks in executing mergers and acquisitions is a positive sign for the U.S. economy.
Looking forward however, there are reasons to expect GDP growth to return to more modest levels. Late in the economic cycle and with unemployment already at very low levels, it is unlikely that consumer spending will be able to continue leading growth forward for a lot longer. Additionally, rising housing prices and higher mortgage rates are likely to begin eating into housing demand. All told, the U.S. economy is one of the healthiest in the developed world, but it is unlikely that we have ushered in a new era of explosive economic growth.