NEW YORK – Now that US President Donald Trump has been in office for six months, we can more confidently assess the prospects for the US economy and economic policymaking under his administration. And, like Trump’s presidency more generally, paradoxes abound.
The main puzzle is the disconnect between the performance of financial markets and the real. While stock markets continue to reach new highs, the US economy grew at an average rate of just 2% in the first half of 2017 – slower growth than under President Barack Obama – and is not expected to perform much better for the rest of the year.
Stock-market investors continue to hold out hope that Trump can push through policies to stimulate growth and increase corporate profits. Moreover, sluggish wage growth implies that inflation is not reaching the US Federal Reserve’s target rate, which means that the Fed will have to normalize interest rates more slowly than expected.
Lower long-term interest rates and a weaker dollar are good news for US stock markets, and Trump’s pro-business agenda is still good for individual stocks in principle, even if the air has been let out of the so-called Trump reflation trade. And there is now less reason to worry that a massive fiscal-stimulus program will push up the dollar and force the Fed to raise rates. In view of the Trump administration’s political ineffectiveness, it is safe to assume that if there is any stimulus at all, it will be smaller than expected.
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