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The economy: That swooning feeling

FOR America’s economy, April is the cruellest month. In each of the past three years the economic recovery started with a burst of momentum, only to swoon over the spring and summer. Sadly, there are now signs of a repeat.Despite a big tax increase on January 1st, employment, retail sales and housing all performed sturdily in January and February this year. Gross domestic product, which stalled at the end of 2012, is thought to have grown at a healthy 3% or more, at an annualised rate, in the first quarter. The stockmarket duly hit fresh highs.Then in March the news abruptly turned sour. After averaging 208,000 in January and February, employment growth slowed sharply to just 88,000. Retail sales, excluding cars and petrol, dropped—as did new construction starts on single-family homes. The fall-off in housing activity is especially unsettling because fundamental determinants, from low mortgage rates and lean inventories to an increase in the number of households being formed, have all been pointing to continued gains.The eerie regularity of this “spring swoon” (see chart) has aroused suspicions that something is amiss in the data. Government statisticians use models…

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