A customer passes a sales display of oranges and pineapples in the fruit and vegetable section of an Asda supermarket, operated by Walmart Stores Inc., in London.
Simon Dawson—Bloomberg via Getty Images
By Adam Lashinsky and David Meyer
April 30, 2018

Good morning. Adam Lashinsky here instead of Alan—he and I have switched places this week. Check out Fortune‘s Data Sheet newsletter if you miss him.

Last week in Data Sheet, I observed a tale of two tech economies. Tech leaders Facebook, Google, and even Apple are under attack for privacy, antitrust, tax or wobbly product concerns even as their cash-manufacturing businesses roar. I come to you this morning with a similar tale of the general economy, one where consumers show little enthusiasm while businesses see opportunity everywhere.

Commerce Department data released Friday showed lower-than-hoped-for overall economic growth for the first quarter: an annualized 2.3% compared with the Trump administration’s aspirational 3% target. How the U.S. economy got here reflects the consumer-versus-business disparity. Consumer spending grew at an anemic 1.1% pace, suggesting little benefit so far from the new tax package. Business investment, on the other hand, ticked up a lusty 6.1%.

Increased business confidence has been unmistakable this past year. The tax-cutting, deregulatory environment was supposed to have rejuvenated the economy even as trade-war fears curbed the enthusiasm. Confidence alone, however, only takes the economy so far. Anecdotes of thousand-dollar bonuses by big companies sharing the wealth of their tax cuts haven’t shown up in the data. Far more certain, predictably, is that companies are boosting share buybacks.

Merger mania, typically better for investment bankers than the economy, continues apace. T-Mobile and Sprint leaders say their tie-up will add jobs. But these promise to be of the hourly retail type. Elsewhere the two will cut costs. They’ll eliminate 35,000 cellular transmission sites, for example, which has to mean fewer people to oversee them.

Clues on the future of the economy will be found in an unlikely place this week: Los Angeles. That’s where the Milken Global Conference is happening. It’s a power-suit-wearing assemblage of Wall Street and industrial might, and the headline lunch speaker today will be U.S. Treasury Steven Mnuchin. He’s stopping in California on his way to China for high-level trade talks.

I’ll be moderating a morning panel at Milken on “strategy and leadership in an age of disruption” that includes Brazilian private-equity mogul Jorge Paulo Lemann of 3G and embattled Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan. None of us can be happy that New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is speaking on a concurrent panel.

Talk about disparity.

Adam Lashinsky


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