In a note today, Bank of America economists (after looking at weather data) admit their finding “puts us in an awkward spot today.” What did it find? Namely that all those who reran that 2014 playbook, Ethan Harris and other Bank of America economists included, and decided to blame the weather for Q1 GDP crashing from over 3% to under 1%, are wrong or simply lying.
Here is BofA:
Is weather the main reason for recent weak economic data? While we would love to blame the weather for all of our bad forecasts, in reality it is hard to pin down weather effects. A recent paper from the Chicago Fed—“The effect of winter weather on U.S. economic activity”—is the best attempt we have seen in recent years. They look at detailed data on snowfall and temperature by state and for the nation as a whole. The results show that weather effects can have a significant impact on local employment and housing activity, however, when you add it up for the nation it becomes very hard to quantify. Looking back at the very severe winter of 2013-14 they find that bad weather can only explain part of the weakness at the start of the year.
This puts us in an awkward spot today. There is a bit of an urban legend that weather can explain all of the weakness in the first quarter of last year and hence could explain all the weakness today. However, hindsight is always 20-20. In real time, the slowdown last year was a major surprise to economists even though we get data on the weather before we get data on the economy. Moreover, this winter is not nearly as bad as last winter—last year we had three bad months, this year only February was unusually bad (Chart 1). Economic fundamentals point to stronger growth ahead, and that remains our forecast. However, we can’t completely explain the recent weakness and hence there is a risk that growth does not pick up.
So the next time anyone, not just the Fed’s Lacker or DB’s house comedian Joe LaVorgna, but any other economissed spouts the first thing that comes into their mind to “explain” the economy’s unwillingness to grow as per some goalseeked spreadsheet, just show them this chart which shows that three of the four months this winter were warmer than normal, and just put them on mute.