An indicator shows the economy actually may be growing above 4 percent now

Key Points
  • The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index jumped to 58.8 in August, above Wall Street expectations.
  • Economist Andrew Hunter says the reading is consistent with GDP growth in excess of 4 percent.
ISM manufacturing index at 58.8 vs. 56.3 estimate
ISM manufacturing index at 58.8 vs. 56.3 estimate

President Donald Trump's hopes for growth as high as 4 percent may come true, at least for one quarter.

An economic report released Friday, and overshadowed by the higher-profile nonfarm payrolls number, actually points to GDP gains in excess of 4 percent in the third quarter, said Andrew Hunter, U.S. economist at Capital Economics, as the firm showed in this chart:

The Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index jumped to 58.8 in August, a six-year high and above the 56.6 reading that economists surveyed by Reuters expected.

The ISM reading is known as a diffusion index, which means it is a survey of purchasing managers who describe their businesses in terms of expansion or contraction. The total is the percentage who reported growth, so a reading above 50 indicates expansion.

Hunter said the most recent figure shows the economy likely is growing at an even faster pace than expected.

"The rebound in the ISM manufacturing index to a six-year high in August illustrates that, despite the softer pace of payroll employment growth, activity continued to expand at a healthy pace last month," he said in a note.

That was some good news to offset a disappointing jobs report, which showed payroll growth of just 156,000 in August.

However, most economists were dismissive of the number, due in part to typical seasonal noise in the August report over the years and to otherwise strong signs of job growth. Earlier in the week, payment processing firm ADP said its private jobs count showed growth of 237,000, and the ISM report actually got its biggest boost from the jobs component, which came in at a robust 59.9 percent, an increase of 4.7 percentage points over July.

The nonfarm payrolls report "means absolutely zero with respect to the fundamental interpretation of the labor market or where policy is going," said Joe Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM. "I expect the August data to be revised up over the next two months."

Indeed, August's numbers often are revised higher after further review. If that's the case again, it would continue a positive dynamic that seemed to take hold in the latter part of the second quarter.

The latest GDP revision brought average growth for the year up to 2.1 percent, above the postrecession trend but still meager. A reading as strong as Hunter suggests could give support to Trump's argument that his pro-business agenda will bring the economy out of its funk.

However, the Atlanta Fed on Friday actually lowered its GDP projection 0.1 point for the third quarter, albeit to a still-solid 3.3 percent. Central bank economists said the positive ISM reading was offset by projected declines in government spending and investment in nonresidential structures.

WATCH: White House chief econ advisor Gary Cohn on what it takes to get growth rolling

Gary Cohn: Lower corporate tax rate will increase wages
Gary Cohn: Lower corporate tax rate will increase wages