Economic growth stalls in the early months of 2017

Economic growth was expected to be quite anemic in the first three months of 2017, and according to the latest Commerce Department report, it was: the new GDP figures point to an economy that grew at just 0.7%. The New York Times reported that the first quarter report “upset expectations for a Trump bump at the start of 2017.”
The economy’s weakness reflected new caution among consumers. Other sectors like housing and business investment turned in a stronger showing, but not enough to offset factors like weaker retail sales.

Most experts believe the economy is picking up speed now, with Wall Street looking for growth at an annual rate of 2.8 percent in the second quarter. But initial hopes have been repeatedly proven too rosy lately – just two months ago, economists predicted that first-quarter growth would be roughly 2 percent.
Today’s report reflects the slowest quarterly growth in three years. That’s not encouraging.

Because reports like these are inevitably seen through a political lens, Donald Trump and his allies will almost certainly say that his presidency is just getting started, so blaming him for the first-quarter GDP report is unfair.

That’s not an unreasonable argument. In fact, as I’ve said many times, reacting too strongly to any individual GDP report is probably a bad idea, and holding a president directly responsible for quarterly fluctuations in the planet’s largest economy is unwise.

That said, whether the White House is willing to admit this or not, Trump went out of his way to make it easier to blame him for the weak GDP data. On a nearly daily basis, the president brags about how much he’s improved economic confidence and brought new investments to the United States. What’s more, after encouraging job reports were released showing strong growth in January and February, Team Trump insisted that this president, not Barack Obama, deserves the credit.

In other words, it’s a little late for the “it’s too early” talking point. Trump can’t easily say, “I want credit for some 2017 economic data, but only the good news, not the bad news.”

As for the image above, the chart shows GDP numbers by quarter since the Great Recession began. The red columns show the economy under the Bush and Trump administration; the blue columns show the economy under the Obama administration.