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The US economy probably barely grew in the first quarter, following a weak Q4 2015. Even so, the still robust labour market argues against an end to the upswing. What we are in fact seeing is the normal volatility in GDP growth rates. With the US trend growth rate likely to have slowed to only 1¾%, there will be quarters when growth rates are low or even negative even though the upward trend remains stable.

These fluctuations will not prevent the Fed from raising interest rates in the longer term, even though the central bank will sit tight again next week. Growth in Q1 slightly positive at best … The US economic data now available for March confirm that the economy started 2016 on a weak note.

According to our GDP Tracker, which simulates the official calculation of economic growth, the economy probably expanded by only 0.5% (annualized rate) versus the final quarter of 2015, and this after quite modest growth of only 1.4% in the preceding quarter. Unlike in the two previous years, the modest start to 2016 cannot be blamed on bad weather or other special factors.

The first quarter of 2016 was actually the third warmest since weather records began. Two factors are surfacing as problem areas: private consumption has lost considerable steam and the trade deficit is rising. … but labour market signals continuation of upswing However, this is not the first time in the post-2009 expansion that real GDP growth has approached zero or even dropped into negative territory (chart 1). Up to now, such weaker quarters have repeatedly been followed by periods with above-average growth rates.

The strongest argument for this pattern emerging again in the coming quarters is stable job growth. In the first quarter of 2016, private-sector employment gained over 2% (annualised rate versus the previous quarter). A look at earlier recessions shows that in the run-up to them, job growth had already clearly lost steam (chart 2).

This is not evident today. Given the lower trend growth … The quite high number of “weak” quarters in this upswing compared to earlier cycles is mainly attributable to the fact that trend growth today is much lower than in the past. This in turn is due to the fact that the size of the available workforce is growing at a reduced pace and productivity progress is lower: