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GDP Growth May Spur Investors

This morning’s revised GDP data may help convince more investors to come off the sidelines and back into the stock market, analysts say.

After flirting with stock funds for a few months, investors returned to their post-crisis habit of steadily pulling money out of stocks and into bond funds. Stock funds had positive inflows from December 2010 through April of 2011, but investors pulled money out of stock funds every month since May of last year.

But given the stronger economic growth, analysts say investors may start to feel more comfortable moving into stocks again, says Karl Mills, the president of Jurika, Mills & Keifer. Those still pouring money into bonds underestimate the serious risk of losing ground to inflation by locking themselves into low yields he says. And they’re overestimating the risk of losing money in stocks, given the steadily improving economic picture. “There’s greater perceived risk than real risk with stocks, and greater perceived safety than real safety with bonds over a 3 to 5 year time horizon,” he says.

This morning’s revised GDP data could change that perception, analysts say. Economists expected GDP for the fourth quarter to be revised downward from the first estimate of 2.8% growth — instead it showed stronger growth of 3%. What’s more, one of the biggest shifts came in consumer spending, a segment that’s crucial to ongoing jobs growth, says Robert Brusca, the chief economist at Fact & Opinion Economics. Spending on services in the fourth quarter was revised upward from a meager 0.2% growth rate to 0.7%.  This supports the improvement seen recently in monthly unemployment reports, as well as the big jump in consumer confidence, Brusca says. “I think the economy is turning a corner.”

In another sign that a sustainable (if slow) recovery is taking hold, not only was personal spending better than originally estimated, but incomes were up, too, notes Robert Johnson, the associate director of economic analysis at Morningstar. Before this report, it appeared consumers were spending more without actually earning more. It seemed stronger retail sales “came from people dipping into their savings or taking out loans,” Johnson says. With this new data, consumer spending now looks more sustainable, he says.

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