Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross: The US economy is very strong — the media is blowing worries about a slowdown out of proportion

Key Points
  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the U.S. economy is strong.
  • He blames the press for stoking worries about a slowdown.
  • "It's the press that seems more obsessed with what may lie in the future," Ross says.
Wilbur Ross says the US economy is very strong

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday the U.S. economy is in good shape, and he blamed the media for stoking worries about a slowdown.

"First of all the economy itself is really strong," Ross said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "You've seen the unemployment figures; you've seen the new claims; you've seen industrial production; you've seen executive confidence; you've seen consumer confidence. Those are all very, very high."

"It's the press that seems more obsessed with what may lie in the future," he added.

Ross said instead of "speculating," the media should judge the Trump administration by what it does "not what they think may be some boogeyman hiding out in the future."

Major Wall Street firms, including Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan, expect to see U.S. growth slowing to below 2 percent in the second half of 2019. Economists have cited a number of concerns, including the Federal Reserve hiking interest rates and the impact of tariffs.

After its most recent hike, in September, the Fed projected three rate increases for next year. But in a speech last week, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said rates are "just below" neutral, suggesting that concerns about a more aggressive path higher for rates may no longer be warranted.

Ross' appearance on CNBC came after President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed over the weekend to a trade cease fire, in which both sides put on hold for 90 days any new tariffs on each other's goods while talks to settle their disputes continue. The clock began on Saturday, the White House said Monday, correcting top economic aide Larry Kudlow's earlier statement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will lead the negotiations that attempt to get Beijing to modify what Trump sees as its unfair trade practices such as barriers to Chinese markets and forced technology transfers. Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will also be involved in the talks.

In the CNBC interview Tuesday, Ross said Trump got "very good" assurances from Xi on trade. "I do believe if they live up to the indications they had with President Trump, everybody will be really happy."

Ross added during the 90-day period the Trump administration hopes to "pin down" details with China for a deal.

Mnuchin expressed optimism during an interview Monday with CNBC that the Trump-Xi framework can be turned into a "real agreement." He said the U.S. received commitments for concessions on several key issues. "This isn't just about buying things. This is about opening markets to U.S. companies and protecting U.S. technology. Those are very important structural issues to the president."

Watch CNBC's full interview with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross