What will gross domestic product, unemployment, inflation and other key economic data do next year?
Not much. According to the experts, we’ll have another year of lackluster growth with only very modest improvement over 2012.
Of course, that modest improvement assumes that Washington will come to some sort of compromise on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff. Should that combination of automatic tax hikes and spending cuts come to pass, unemployment will likely spike as the U.S. falls back into recession.
Given the impasse over a budget deal, economists’ forecasts for 2013 all come with a big asterisk. So take the following figures with a grain of salt. Besides, economists as a group aren’t exactly covered in glory with their macro forecasts in the best of times. Throw high-stakes political brinksmanship into the mix, and all these average estimates could be way off.
At any rate …
Assuming we get some kind of budget deal, 2013 is shaping up to be another year of healing, if not a return to robust health:
GDP is expected to slow to an annualized growth rate of just 1.8% in the current quarter, according to The Wall Street Journal’s November forecasting survey, but then accelerate through 2013. By this time next year, the economy should be growing at a 2.7% rate, or about what it did in the third quarter just past.
For the full year, however, GDP is expected to expand just 2.4%. That’s far enough above stall speed to keep recession worries at bay — but not nearly fast enough to make a dent in perniciously high unemployment.
As a result, the unemployment rate likely will stay uncomfortably elevated in 2013. Indeed, by this time next year, the unemployment rate is forecast at 7.5%, or just 0.2 percentage points below November’s reading. The economy is predicted to add 1.9 million jobs during the next 12 months — essentially just enough new jobs to keep up with population growth.
If there’s a bright spot to all that slack in the labor force, it will continue to help keep inflation under wraps. The Consumer Price Index is expected to expand by no more than 2.2% next year, which is more or less in line with the tepid price increases of the post-recession years, yet also high enough to stave off deflationary fears (which are far worse for the economy, anyway.) Meanwhile, core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, is forecast to increase just 1.8% next year.
Tepid global demand and higher production should also help keep a lid on oil prices. Economists, on average, expect them to stay essentially range-bound with current levels, rising to about $93 a barrel in New York trading from around $86 now.
The best news coming out of the economy should be in the housing market. It has taken nearly seven long years since the bubble burst, but housing looks to have definitively stabilized, with more home-price gains ahead.
Housing prices should post an annual gain of 3.43% on a national basis, a significant acceleration over 2012’s increase of 3.31%. That’s a big part of our bullish thesis on homebuilders and related industries for next year. Indeed, two of this year’s top stocks in the S&P 500 are homebuilders, and there’s ample reason to see more upside ahead.
Despite another year of lackluster growth, a combination of record-high margins, share buybacks and ultra-low rates squeezing investors out of fixed income point to a decent year for stocks. Wall Street strategists, on average, see another 7% upside for the S&P 500 next year.
After this year’s double-digit gain despite weak U.S. and emerging-market growth — and recession in Europe — mid-single-digit gains seem within reach.