The U.S. economy is booming this quarter as tax cuts power consumers and businesses. Yet risks are mounting that the high will be short-lived.
The housing market is struggling to build on its progress, thanks to supply constraints and soaring property values, with data released last week showing an unexpectedly large drop in construction permits.
Manufacturing is coming off the boil amid lengthening order backlogs and accelerating input prices, particularly for oil and partly because of tariffs on metals. On top of that, President Donald Trump has brought the U.S. to the verge of a trade war with China that could see levies on hundreds of billions of dollars in goods.
It all amounts to increasing headwinds on economic growth that has a fair shot this quarter at reaching 4 percent, the fastest since 2014. The Trump administration said such strength makes it a good time to push for changes in U.S. trade policy.
U.S. growth "is close to a peak" and momentum will be "cooling from here," said Gregory Daco, head of U.S. macroeconomics at Oxford Economics in New York. The trade risks "come at a point when the economy itself is in the late stage of the business cycle, it's already close to capacity, where you can't easily substitute for imports, and businesses are worried about trade tensions."
Federal Reserve officials are taking note of the trade tensions. "Those concerns seem to be rising, for the first time, we're hearing about decisions to postpone investment, postpone hiring," Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a European Central Bank forum in Sintra, Portugal.
That follows similar remarks by Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic.
"I began the year with a decided upside tilt to my risk profile for growth, reflecting business optimism following the passage of tax reform," Bostic said recently in Savannah, Ga. "That optimism has almost completely faded among my contacts, replaced by concerns about trade policy and tariffs. Perceived uncertainty has risen markedly."
While there's little chance of a sudden deceleration in U.S. expansion, Daco said there's potential for a "more significant shock" from trade policy in 2019, and cooling global growth also means less of a buffer for the United States. "The administration may be taking a gamble in saying tariffs won't have an immediate impact in a strong economy, but that's just very shortsighted," he said.
Chandra writes for Bloomberg.