Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury secretary, left, and Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). (Photographer: Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg)

Mnuchin Outlook for Sustained 3% Growth at Odds With Forecasters

(Bloomberg) -- The second-quarter surge shows the U.S. economy is “well on the path” for four or five years of sustained annual growth of 3 percent, said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin -- a rosy outlook at odds with that of many economists as well as the U.S. central bank.

“We can only project a couple years in the future, but I think we’re well on this path for several years,” Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday,” as President Donald Trump’s economic team fanned out across morning talk shows to cheer-lead the economy.

Mnuchin Outlook for Sustained 3% Growth at Odds With Forecasters

The U.S. economy accelerated in the second quarter to the fastest pace since 2014, the government reported on Friday, allowing Trump to link the increase with his economic policies, including the biggest tax overhaul since the Reagan era and a push for deregulation.

The second quarter may prove as good as it gets for the world’s largest economy, though, and few economists expect it to attain the president’s goal of sustained growth of 3 percent. 

Long Expansion

The U.S. expansion, which dates back some nine years, is set to weaken as the impulse from the 2017 tax cuts fades, businesses retrench in the face of foreign tariffs or a strong dollar, and the Federal Reserve raises interest rates further.

The president “deserves the victory lap,” White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on CNN, adding that faster economic growth could continue for a “bunch” of years.

Mnuchin said that Trump respects the independence of the Fed, despite the president’s recent criticism of the central bank for raising interest rates.

In fact, Mnuchin said it was responsible for the Fed to raise rates as the economy grows faster and inflation rises.

Managing Inflation

“The Fed has been targeting 2 percent inflation, and obviously with 2 percent inflation we have to have at least slightly higher interest rates to manage through that,” he said.

The 4.1 percent uptick in second-quarter gross domestic product was propelled by consumer spending, business investment and a decline in the trade deficit. Yet as the effects fade from the tax cuts, economists expect the pace to moderate, with forecasts showing growth will come in around 3 percent this year before tailing off by 2020 to 1.8 percent.

The International Monetary Fund predicts U.S. growth of 2.9 percent in 2018 and and 2.7 percent next year. 

While there’s evidence that tax reforms and cuts are helping to stimulate activity, the strength of consumer spending in the second quarter is unlikely to continue into the second half of the year, Bloomberg economists Carl Riccadonna and Tim Mahedy said in a note.

“Dollar strength will slow exports, and importers will adjust supply lines widening the trade balance,” they wrote. “Furthermore, residential investment looks to remain weak, due in part to last year’s tax reform, and consumer spending will moderate in the second half as the Fed continues to remove policy accommodation.”

Fed’s Outlook

The Trump administration’s official goal is for sustained GDP growth of 3 percent, which would well exceed the average 2.3 percent pace during the expansion that started in July 2009, as well as the Fed’s longer-run expectation of 1.8 percent.

The last time the economy enjoyed a sustained period of above 3 percent growth was in the late 1990s, when GDP was goosed by a technology-driven surge in productivity under then President Bill Clinton.

Trump forecast on Friday that future trade deals would spark further expansion as he pursues a hawkish trade agenda that includes tariffs on steel and aluminum and a threat to slap duties on $500 billion in Chinese imports. Many economists and analysts expect the opposite impact if the U.S. actions trigger a global rise in protectionism.

Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed last week to negotiate lower barriers to transatlantic commerce and put auto tariffs on hold.

While net exports contributed 1.06 percentage points to second-quarter growth, the most since 2013, the boost is probably temporary. The numbers reflected a 9.3 percent gain in shipments abroad, boosted partly by a surge in soybean shipments ahead of China’s retaliatory tariffs.

Few analysts are counting on this component to keep delivering in the face of a strong dollar and tariffs that have been proposed or already implemented. Meanwhile, steady domestic demand from households and businesses means imports will pick up, potentially causing the trade deficit to widen.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.