Many of the nation's top forecasters agree the economy is expanding vigorously now, but they differ sharply over how robust it will be at year's end, according to a survey released Monday.
The consensus of 51 economists polled in early June by the newsletter Blue Chip Economic Indicators saw the economy growing at a 3.3 percent annual rate from April through June, up a full percentage point over forecasts in the past two months."If so, it would be well above the 2.3 percent annual rate in the first quarter of 1996 and the anemic 0.5 percent pace in the final three months of 1995.
But Robert J. Eggert and Randall Moore, editors of the Sedona, Ariz., newsletter, said there is "considerable uncertainty" about the second half of the year.
"Pessimists (bottom 10 average) believe high levels of consumer debt, slow income growth and this year's rise in interest rates will curtail consumption in the second half, dropping annualized economic growth to around 1.2 percent," they reported.
"Increasingly, the differences between the forecasts of these two camps has actually risen in recent months as more economic data became available."
The survey was taken before the Labor Department reported Friday that a surprising 340,000 jobs were created in May, twice as many as most analysts had expected and suggesting an even stronger economy.
While that may have affected the forecast for the second quarter, Moore said it probably would not have had any impact on the consensus for the third and fourth quarters - 2.3 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively.
For the year, the forecasters predicted the economy will grow 2.2 percent, down from 2.5 percent in 1995. Their consensus calls for 2.1 percent growth in 1997.
Continued growth will cause little inflationary pressure, the economists believe. The consensus calls for a 2.9 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index this year and a 3 percent rise in 1997.
The CPI, the government's main inflation gauge, rose 2.5 percent last year, the smallest gain since it edged up 1.1 percent in 1986.
The survey participants represent major corporations, banks, universities, economic forecasting services and Wall Street firms.