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US economy beats back 'dubious' recession fears after GDP, jobs data top expectations

On Thursday, revisions to first quarter economic data showed the economy grew faster than initially expected despite inflation coming in higher than first noted.

In the labor market, revisions resulting in part from fraudulent data in Massachusetts show jobless claims aren’t piling up as previously anticipated.

Together, the data points add to a growing narrative that current economic data doesn’t match the pessimism of some economists warning about a recession.

“The argument that we're definitely going into a recession is dubious,” Blackrock’s CIO of fixed income Rick Rieder told Yahoo Finance Live. “The question is, can inflation come down enough to hit the target, and that’s the one that is not clear at this point.”

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Rieder’s comments come amid a week that showed consumer spending power is not deteriorating at an aggressive pace. Best Buy (BBY) believes its worst quarter is behind it as it projects stronger consumer technology demand in the second half of the year. Specialty clothing retailers Urban Outfitters (URBN) and Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) reported strong sales. And even business-to-business spending doesn’t appear to be falling off any cliffs as shares of both Nvidia (NVDA) and Palo Alto Networks (PANW) rose following upbeat earnings forecasts.

The spending picture is adding up to what could be another quarter of growth, according to the Atlanta Fed which projects second quarter GDP growth of 2.9%.

“A combination of stronger growth and stronger inflation in Q1 make it even more likely that the Fed will see further rate hikes as needed to cool activity enough to bring inflation back to 2%,” Citi’s team of economists wrote in a note on Thursday.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell left his options open at his last press conference on May 3, signaling what economists later called a "hawkish pause."

The Fed chair noted that the next decisions will be made on a meeting by meeting basis and based on the “totality of incoming data.”

But that stance appears to be shifting, at least from other fed officials. On Wednesday, Federal Reserve Governor Christopher Waller discussed the Fed's likeness to “hike” interest rates or “skip” at this meeting, inferring there may be more rate hikes to come.

"I do not support stopping rate hikes unless we get clear evidence that inflation is moving down towards [from] our 2% objective," Waller said.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Susan Collins cast a different tone on Thursday.

“While inflation is still too high, there are some promising signs of moderation,” Collins said in a speech at Community College of Rhode Island. “I believe we may be at, or near, the point where monetary policy can pause raising interest rates."

ARCHIVO - El presidente de la Reserva Federal, Jerome Powell, habla durante una reunión en Washington, el viernes 19 de mayo de 2023. (AP Foto/Andrew Harnik, Archivo)
ARCHIVO - El presidente de la Reserva Federal, Jerome Powell, habla durante una reunión en Washington, el viernes 19 de mayo de 2023. (AP Foto/Andrew Harnik, Archivo) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ahead of next week’s jobs report, the current “totality of the data” has markets increasingly betting on another rate hike in June. As of Thursday afternoon, markets have priced in a nearly 50% chance of either a hike or a pause in June, according to the CME Fed watch tool.

Markets had been nearly 100% confident in a pause the day of the CPI report on May 10 that revealed inflation cooling at its fastest pace in two years.

But a resilient labor market with unemployment at its lowest level since 1969 and consumers spending through inflation pressures has economists questioning what once felt like a straightforward path.

“While we expect the Fed to leave rates steady at its June meeting, the minutes from this month's FOMC meeting made clear that a more significant loosening of labor market conditions is needed to keep rate hikes permanently off the table,” Oxford economics team of economists wrote on Thursday.

Josh is a reporter for Yahoo Finance.

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