IMF Cuts Estimate for U.S. Growth; Consumers Grumpier; Industrial Production Flat

The International Monetary Fund reported that it expects the economy to grow by a relatively anemic 1.9 percent in 2013. Consumers were feeling a bit more grumpy in June, when the consumer sentiment index dropped to 82.7 from the 84.5 reading at the end of May. And industrial production was unchanged in May, after a decrease of 0.4 percent in April.

The International Monetary Fund reported on Friday that it expects the U.S. economy to grow by a relatively anemic 1.9 percent in 2013, while asserting that growth could be as much as 1.75 percentage points more than the estimate, but the sequester is getting in the way. The organization also predicted that U.S. growth would be 2.7 percent in 2014, instead of the 3 percent previously predicted.

“In particular, the automatic spending cuts (‘sequester’) not only exert a heavy toll on growth in the short term, but the indiscriminate reductions in education, science, and infrastructure spending could also reduce medium-term potential growth,” the IMF said in its annual statement on the U.S. economy. “These cuts should be replaced with a back-loaded mix of entitlement savings and new revenues, along the lines of the Administration’s budget proposal.” 

The organization did note, however, that the nature of the recovery seems to be changing. “House prices and construction activity have rebounded, household balance sheets have strengthened, labor market conditions have improved, and corporate profitability and balance sheets remain strong, especially for large firms,” it said, also praising the Fed for its bond-buying stimulus. “The Fed appropriately continued to add monetary policy accommodation over the past year by increasing its asset purchases and linking the path of short-term rates to quantitative measures of economic performance, thus helping to maintain long-term rates at exceptionally low levels.” 

Consumer Sentiment Swings Down, PPI Up

Consumers were feeling a bit more grumpy in June, according to the University of Michigan, whose consumer sentiment index (released on Friday) dropped from 84.5 at the end of May to a current reading of 82.7. That’s still fairly high compared with recent readings, which have rarely been above 75 since before 2008, much less 80. The expectations component of the index rose nearly 1 point to 76.7, but consumer assessment of current conditions dropped nearly 6 points from May to 92.1, bringing the overall index down. 

Though not generally part of consumer mindset, there was some reason to worry about future price increases, with U.S. wholesale prices rising more than expected in May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday. The producer price index for finished goods was up 0.5 percent for the month, mainly on the strength of higher prices for food and energy. Remove food and energy, and the PPI gained on 0.1 percent. 

The index for energy moved up 1.3 percent in May following two monthly declines in a row. A 1.5 percent rise in the index for gasoline accounted for 40 percent of the energy increase, once again demonstrating the volatility of that product. The index for food climbed 0.6 percent in May after falling 0.8 percent in April. Accounting for more than 60 percent of the increase was the price of eggs, which surged 41.6 percent; cheese was also way up.

Industrial Production Stagnant

According to the Federal Reserve on Friday, U.S. industrial production – manufacturing, utilities and mines — was unchanged in May, after a decrease of 0.4 percent in April. Total industrial production was 1.6 percent higher in May 2013 than the same month last year, but still less than its most recent peak in 2007. Manufacturing production was up 0.1 percent and mining gained 0.7 percent, but a drop in utility production kept total production from rising any higher in April.

The rate of capacity utilization for industry, which the Fed also tracks, was 77.6 percent, down 0.1 percentage points for the month, and 0.2 percentage points lower than during May 2012. Capacity utilization is still 2.6 percentage points below its long-term average (1972-2012). 

Wall Street yo-yoed downward again on Friday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 105.9 points, or 0.7 percent. The S&P 500 came in 0.59 percent down, and the Nasdaq lost 0.63 percent.