Early in 2018 we said the US economy has gone from being a Plow Horse to Kevlar. Nothing that has been thrown at the economy since – neither trade conflicts nor tweets, not higher short-term interest rates nor the correction in stocks – is likely to pierce that armor.
A year ago the economic consensus was that real GDP would grow 2.5% in 2018. And yes, that was
Now, the same consensus that a year ago suggested the economy would only grow 2.5% in 2018 with the tax cuts is saying the economy is going to slow down to a pace of 2.3% in 2019, in part because of the supposed reduction in stimulus related to those very same tax cuts.
Once again, we're not buying it. The benefits to growth from having a lower tax rate on corporate profits and less regulation are going to take years to play out. Companies and investors around the world have only begun to react to the US being a more attractive place to operate. As a result, we're forecasting another year of 3.0% economic growth.
Further, we expect the unemployment rate to keep gradually falling, as continued job growth offsets an expanding labor force to push the jobless rate down to 3.3%, the lowest since the early 1950s. Last year the consensus predicted the jobless rate would decline to 3.8% in 2018; we predicted 3.7%. Right now it's already 3.7% and we think a drop to 3.6% is likely for December when that report comes out January 4.
On inflation, it looks like we'll finish this year with the Consumer Price Index up about 2.0%, although it would have been higher were it not for what we think is a temporary downdraft in oil prices. The consensus had projected 2.1% and we had been forecasting 2.5%. Look for a rebound in oil prices and ample monetary liquidity to help push the CPI gain to 2.5% in 2019, which would be the largest gain since 2011.
The tricky part is what to expect from the Federal Reserve in 2019. Based on our economic projections, and if the economy were the Fed's only consideration, we could get as many as four rate hikes in 2019. After all, nominal GDP growth – real GDP growth plus inflation – is up 5.5% in the past year and up at a 4.8% annual rate in the past two years. Raising rates four times in 2019, which is more than any Fed decision-maker projected at the last meeting in December, would only take the top of the range for the federal funds rate to 3.5%, still well below the trend in nominal GDP growth.
But we think the Fed will have a two-part test for rate hikes in 2019. First, as we just explained, the economy itself. Second, the yield curve. We think the Fed will be very reluctant to see the federal funds rate go above the yield on the 10-year Treasury Note and will strive to avoid either an active or passive inversion of the yield curve. An active inversion would be the Fed directly raising the federal funds rate above the 10-year yield; a passive inversion would be raising the federal funds rate so close to the 10-year yield that normal market volatility could send the 10-year lower than the funds rate.