With the crisis in the Ukraine roiling global markets, some good news about the state of the U.S. economy slipped by largely unnoticed: Personal income rose 0.3% while consumer spending gained 0.4%, both ahead of expectations. Separately, the ISM manufacturing for February was above expectations while Markit's measure of U.S. manufacturing activity hit its highest level since May 2010.
It's a welcome bit of good news for the U.S. economy, which has shown signs of flagging since late 2013. A raft of disappointing data on GDP, jobs, retail sales and consumer confidence, as well as a slowdown in the housing recovery, has a least one econo-bull turning more pessimistic.
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"I've been bullish on America since 2009, when the expansion first started," says Dan Gross, columnist at The Daily Best. "For the first time [since 2009], I'm worried about a substantial slowdown of growth in the U.S. economy."
Gross is not forecasting a near-term recession but a very different outlook than the theme of his most recent book: Better, Stronger, Faster. He predicts the U.S. will continue to "muddle along in a low gear," suggesting Friday's jobs report for February is likely to continue the lackluster trend of the prior two months. (The consensus is for payroll growth of 148,000, up from 113,000 in January but well below the 2013 monthly average of 194,000.)
As for the common refrain that the U.S. economy is merely suffering from a spate of bad weather, Gross is dubious. "The weather has certainly been an impact for many companies, many business and many industries," he says. "But when the economy is roaring along...that's a little setback. People don't put that up and say 'this is why our sales stink.' There are some larger issues."
Add geopolitical risk to those more structural issues and it's going to be harder and harder for bulls to dismiss another batch of weak data as an 'anamoly' or weather-related.