For three years now, first-quarter GDP growth has been negative, and yet it seems to shock the market every time. Most, but not all, economists had expected a negative number for this quarter, but the 2.2% quarter-to-quarter contraction was a great deal more negative than had been expected, even by the most pessimistic of analysts. So too was the 0.8% year-on-year figure, which is a better guide to the outcome for the full year and was also far lower than expected, putting question marks over forecasts that this year’s growth could go as high as 2%. That outcome would require the economy to sustain average growth rates of 2.5% for the next three quarters. So why did everyone get it so wrong? Are the economists or the statisticians at fault, or are the consistently unexpected numbers telling us something about the economy that we didn’t know?One problem for the forecasters is that only 40% of the economy is "visible", in the sense that Statistics SA provides monthly data on these sec...

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