Strong retail sales push growth forecasts to 3 percent for fourth quarter, even with slowdown scare

  • U.S. GDP growth in the fourth quarter is now tracking at 3 percent, according to the CNBC/Moody's Analytics GDP rapid update.
  • The median forecast from a group of economists rose by 0.2 percentage points after reports of strong November retail sales and revisions to October data.
  • Economists had expected fourth quarter growth to slow, and they see 2019 growth at just 2.4 percent, according to the survey.
People shop during a Black Friday sales event at Macy's flagship store on 34th St. in New York City, November 22, 2018. 
Stephanie Keith | Reuters
People shop during a Black Friday sales event at Macy's flagship store on 34th St. in New York City, November 22, 2018. 

Strong consumer spending is giving a boost to fourth-quarter GDP growth, pushing it up to 3 percent, according to a survey of economists.

Economists, participating in the CNBC/Moody's Analytics GDP rapid update raised their forecast by 0.2 percentage points following the stronger-than-expected November retail sales report. Excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food, retail sales gained 0.9 percent in November, on top of a revised 0.7 percent increase in October.

Third quarter GDP growth was 3.5 percent, but economists have been looking for a slowdown in the fourth quarter continuing into next year.

For 2019, the survey shows economists expect a growth pace of 2.4 percent.

The economists in the rapid update survey see fourth quarter growth between 2.7 percent and 3.1 percent. Tracking forecasts for GDP take into account incoming data and are updated frequently.

Barclays economists upped their tracking forecast Friday to 2.9 percent from 2.5 percent, mostly due to retail sales.

"The acceleration in sales could be partly attributed to Black Friday and other holiday-season related shopping events during this time of the year. There were also substantial upward revisions to October's data, both at the headline and core level. Taken together, this morning's report points to stronger momentum in retail sales than what we had expected, and bodes well for Q4 consumption spending," they wrote.

Consumption added 0.5 percent to GDP, but the Barclays economists raised growth by just 0.4 percentage points because the strong pickup in sales suggests a fall in inventories. Barclays also trimmed 0.1 percentage points due to lowered retail inventories.