Summary

The major domestic equity indexes were a bit lower on Friday, after data came out that indicated the economy grew at its weakest pace in three years during the first quarter, thereby giving traders a reason to take some chips off the table.

Nonetheless, the major indexes were up for April, with the Nasdaq up for six consecutive months, the longest streak in nearly four years. The Nasdaq was buoyed Friday by gains in Amazon and Google’s parent Alphabet.

Gross domestic product grew at a 0.7 percent annual rate, below the 1.2 percent rise estimated by economists, as consumer spending barely increased and businesses invested less in inventories. The economy grew at a 2.1 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

Citi Research’s gauge on economic data surprises turned negative for the first time since November.

The soft growth data is bad news for the Trump administration after campaign promises to significantly boost growth and adds to concerns among some in the market that lower taxes, deregulation and increased government spending – the main reasons for a post-election rally – will be, at the least, delayed.

For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1.9 percent, the S&P gained 1.5 percent and the Nasdaq was up 2.3 percent. During April, the Dow gained 1.3 percent, the S&P rose 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq gained 2.3 percent.

Amazon rose as much as 3.4 percent to a life high of $949.59, and ended up 0.7 percent at $924.99, while Alphabet gained 5 percent to a record of $935.90 and closed up 3.7 percent at $924.52 after their quarterly results beat estimates.

Combined earnings reports and expectations for S&P 500 companies show profits are estimated to have risen 13.6 percent in the first quarter, the most since 2011, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. While strong earnings have kept the market at or near record levels, persistent geopolitical tensions have weighed on investors’ minds.

Intel fell 3.4 percent to $36.15 after the company reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue. Baidu ended down 4.1 percent at $180.23 after the Chinese internet company forecast second-quarter revenue largely below estimates.

Approximately 6.94 billion shares changed hands on the major domestic equity exchanges, a number that was above the 6.55 billion share daily average over the last 20 sessions.

GDP Growth Slows

GDP grew at its weakest pace in three years during the first quarter as consumer spending barely increased and businesses invested less on inventories in what will be looked as a potential setback to President Trump’s promise to boost growth.

According to a report by the Commerce Department, first quarter GDP increased at a 0.7 percent annual rate as the government cut back on defense spending. It was the weakest performance since the first quarter of 2014.

The economy grew at a 2.1 percent pace in the fourth quarter. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 1.2 percent pace last quarter. The survey was, however, conducted before Thursday’s advance data on the March goods trade deficit and inventories, which saw many economists lowering their first-quarter growth estimates.

The pedestrian first-quarter growth pace is, however, not a true picture of the economy’s health. The labor market is near full employment and consumer confidence is near multi-year highs, suggesting that the mostly weather-induced sharp slowdown in consumer spending is probably temporary.

A measure of private domestic demand increased at a 2.2 percent rate last quarter. First-quarter GDP tends to underperform because of difficulties with the calculation of data that the government has acknowledged and is working to rectify.

Even without the seasonal quirk and temporary restraints, economists say it would be difficult for Trump to fulfill his pledge to raise annual GDP growth to 4 percent, without increases in productivity.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, braked to a 0.3 percent rate in the first quarter. That was the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2009 and followed the fourth quarter’s robust 3.5 percent growth rate.

The weakness in consumer spending is blamed on a mild winter, which undermined demand for heating and utilities production. Higher inflation, which saw the personal consumption expenditures index averaging 2.4 percent in the first quarter – the highest since the second quarter of 2011 – also weighed on consumer spending.

Government delays issuing income tax refunds to combat fraud also curbed consumer spending. But with savings rising to $814.2 billion from $778.9 billion in the fourth quarter, consumer spending is likely to pick up.

After contributing to GDP growth for two straight quarters, inventory investment was a drag in the first quarter. Businesses accumulated inventories at a rate of $10.3 billion in the last quarter, down from $49.6 billion in the October-December period. Inventories subtracted 0.93 percentage point from GDP growth, almost reversing the 1.0 percentage point contribution in the fourth quarter.

Government spending fell at a 1.7 percent rate as defense outlays declined at a 4.0 percent pace, the biggest drop since the fourth quarter of 2014. State and local government investment also fell.

There was some good news in the first quarter. Business investment improved further, with spending on equipment jumping at a 9.1 percent rate thanks to rising gas and oil well drilling as oil prices continue their recovery from multi-year lows.

Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts surged at a record 449 percent rate after rising at a 23.7 percent pace in the fourth quarter, accounting for the rise in nonresidential structures investment.

Spending on nonresidential structures accelerated at a 22.1 percent pace in the first quarter after falling at a 1.9 percent rate in the prior period.

Investment in home building rose at a 13.7 percent rate. Exports rose at a 5.8 percent rate, outpacing the 4.1 percent rate of increase in imports. That left a smaller trade deficit, which had a neutral impact on GDP growth.


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