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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with executives and union representatives from the Harley Davidson company at the White House on February 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. At the end of the photo opportunity, Trump said "nothing is off the table" in relation to current disagreements between the U.S. and Iran.
Perhaps Donald Trump didn't unleash the animal spirits of the economy after all.
Shortly after the election, many commentators suggested that Trump's win, and his promise to cut regulation and taxes, seemed to give the economy a psychological boost. Indeed last month, members of the Federal Reserve noted that measures of consumer confidence and business activity appeared to have improved.
But those animal spirits, as economists call such signs of optimism, are strikingly absent in a pretty good predictor of future economic activity: lending.
According to new data from research website Bankregdata, bank lending slowed in the final three months of last year. In the fourth quarter, loan balances at U.S. banks rose just 0.8% from the quarter before. That was the slowest growth in nearly two years. Overall, banks made an additional $70 billion in loans during the quarter. But that was less than the jump of $110 billion in loans the previous quarter, and $90 billion in the three months before that.
What's more, borrowing by businesses, which were supposed to have been howling the loudest, economically, from Trump's win—that is, companies were expected to pounce on new loans for big investments—seems to have slowed the most. So-called commercial and industrial lending dropped by $2 billion in the fourth quarter. That was the first quarterly drop in business lending, which has been one of the biggest areas of loan growth since the recession, in more than three years.
Oddly, the disappointing lending numbers could be a win for Trump. The President has claimed that regulations such as Dodd-Frank have been holding back lending, including to his friends. There is little evidence of that. But if a slowdown in lending persists, Trump may have more reason to call for a rollback in regulations, something he has long said he would like to happen.
While the market shot up after Trump's election, there are growing signs that the economy, at least so far, has gotten nearly as much of a bump from Trump. Some are starting to suggest that his policy proposals, particularly on trade, could even be hurting the economy, driving us into a Trump slump. On Wednesday, Larry Fink, CEO of money manager BlackRock and a member of the president's CEO advisory board, told a conference that he thought uncertainties around Trump's economic policies were already having a negative impact on global growth. "I actually believe we’re in the midst of a slowdown as we speak because of all the uncertainty," Fink said.