We've called it a "Plow Horse" economy, which was our metaphor invented to counter forecasters who said slow growth meant a recession was on its way. A Plow Horse is always slow, but that slowness hides underlying strength – it was never going to slip and fall. Now, the economy is accelerating.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, monthly data releases show real GDP growing at a 3%+ annual rate. If that holds, it would make for three consecutive quarters of growth at 3% or higher. Believe it or not, the last time that happened was 2004.
Last week saw retail sales, industrial production, and housing starts all come in better than expected for October, the latter two substantially better.
And while retail sales grew "just" 0.2% in October, that came on the back of a 1.9% surge in September. Overall sales, and those excluding volatile components like autos, gas and building materials, all signal a robust consumer.
Meanwhile factory output surged 1.3% in October, tying the second highest monthly gain since 2010. Production at factories is now up 2.5% from a year ago, and accelerating. By contrast, factory production was down 0.1% in the year ending October 2016 and unchanged in the year ending October 2015. The current revival is not due to the volatile auto sector, where output of motor vehicles is down 5.9% from a year ago while the production of auto parts is down 0.3%.
The last piece of last week's good economic news was on home building: housing starts surged after a storm-related lull in September. Single-family starts, which are more stable than multi-family starts - and add more per unit to GDP - tied the highest level since 2007. Housing completions hit the highest level since 2008.
As a result of all this data, the Atlanta Fed's "GDP Now" model says real GDP is growing at a 3.4% annual rate in Q4. The New York Fed's "Nowcast" says 3.8%.
Of course, if we get anything close to those numbers, some analysts will claim the fourth quarter is just a hurricane-related rebound. But the conventional wisdom has been way too bearish for years, and Q3 is likely to be revised up to a 3.4% growth rate from the original estimate of 3.0%. Put it all together, and things are looking up. It's no longer a Plow Horse economy. In fact, after years of smothering the growth potential of amazing new technologies, the government is finally getting out of the way.