US Economy

Economists slash GDP estimates after weak sales hit even before storms

Key Points
  • Atlanta Fed, Bank of America, Barclays reduce GDP estimates by 0.8 percentage points.
  • Goldman, the lowest on the Street, cut its forecast by 0.4 percentage points.
Joshua Young takes some of his personal belonging out by kayak after flooding hit his apartment building during Hurricane Irma on September 12, 2017 in the San Marco area of Jacksonville, Florida.
Carolyn Cole | Los Angeles Times | Getty Images

Economists took a heavy red pen to their forecasts for third quarter growth after weak retail sales and industrial production, with some shaving nearly a percentage point off their estimates.

The Atlanta Fed joined with forecasters from Bank of America and Barclays in reducing their GDP estimates by 0.8 percentage points. The CNBC Rapid Update average of tracking forecasts now stands at 2.4 percent, down 0.6 points.

Goldman Sachs, which lowered its forecast by 0.4 percentage points, is the lowest on the Street, looking for just 1.6 percent growth in the quarter. Stephen Stanley from Amherst Pierpoint continues to maintain his optimism, coming in at the high end with a 2.8 percent forecast.

The industrial production data was clearly hurt by Hurricane Harvey, though there was some weakness in the report outside of storm effects. Retail sales were more of a puzzle, with a downward revision to July growth from 0.6 percent to 0.3 percent, that is, well before the storm hit.

With the hurricanes coming at the end of the month, the storm effects seemed modest: vehicle sales fell sharply as did electronics, appliances and clothing. Gasoline sales rose, as could be expected, but curiously, building and garden supplies fell. Many economists expect a bounce back from rebuilding efforts in the fourth quarter, but September could continue to tally negative impacts as the first after effects of Hurricane Irma show up in the data.

To be sure, the current level of the CNBC Rapid Update continues to run above the prevailing 2 percent growth of the past several years, and the data continue to confirm 3.1 percent in the second quarter.