Merrill Again Lowers Its U.S. Growth Forecast for 2003

By John S. McClenahen A year ago Merrill Lynch & Co., New York, was about the only bull running on Wall Street. Now the securities firm remains deep in the bears' den. Merrill has again lowered its GDP forecast for 2003, expecting inflation-adjusted growth to be 2.1%, some three-tenths of a percentage point below its previous estimate of 2.4%. ". . . But [we] want to stress that due to diminished geopolitical risks, lower oil prices and tightening credit spreads, the odds of a double-dip recession have likely been cut in half from pre-war levels of 50%," says David A. Rosenberg, Merrill Lynch's chief North American economist. At the same time, Rosenberg isn't looking for a surge in consumer spending. "A return to the glory days of 3%-plus consumer spending growth awaits an improvement in the employment situation, and we're not holding our breath that this is a 2003 story," he says. On a quarter-by-quarter basis for 2003, Merrill figures that real GDP will grow at an annual rate of 1.8% for the three months ending June 30, 3% in the third quarter and 2.5% in the year's final three months. The U.S. Commerce Department's initial figure for this year's first quarter was 1.6%. As for next year, Merrill foresees 3.3% real growth in GDP, down from its previous forecast of 3.4%.

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