Economic news

US Economy on Firmer Footing Heading into First Quarter

  • Fourth-quarter GDP growth trimmed to 3.2% rate
  • Consumer spending raised to 3.0% pace from 2.8% rate
  • Inflation increase revised slightly higher

WASHINGTON, Feb 28 (Reuters) - U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter was lowered slightly, but its composition was much stronger than initially thought, which bodes well for the near-term outlook even as activity got off to a weak start because of freezing temperatures.

The Commerce Department's slight downward revision to gross domestic product growth on Wednesday reflected a downgrade to inventory investment. There were upgrades to consumer spending, state and local government investment as well as residential and business outlays.

The economy has defied dire warnings of a recession after the Federal Reserve aggressively raised interest rates to tame inflation, thanks to a tight labor market that is keeping wages elevated and supporting consumer spending.

"Though weather wreaked havoc on some of the data for January, risks are still weighted toward the upside for growth early this year," said Ryan Sweet, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics. "A weather-related rebound in activity in February coupled with a recent surge in tax refunds should provide a boost to growth in retail sales."

GDP increased at a 3.2% annualized rate last quarter, revised slightly down from the previously reported 3.3% pace, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis said in its second estimate of fourth-quarter GDP growth.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected GDP growth would be unrevised. Private inventory investment is now estimated to have increased at a $66.3 billion rate instead of the previously reported $82.7 billion pace.

Stronger consumer spending together with the upgrades to investment in homebuilding and business outlays, mostly nonresidential structures like factories, means domestic demand was stronger than initially thought. Final sales to private domestic purchasers, a measure of domestic demand, grew at a 2.9% rate instead of the previously reported 2.6% rate.


With demand firmer, inflation was revised slightly up, but the pace of increase was still milder relative to earlier in the year. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index excluding the volatile food and energy components rose at a 2.1% pace. The so-called core PCE price index was initially reported to have increased at a 2.0% rate.

Core inflation last quarter was a touch above the Fed's 2% target, and continues to be driven by higher housing costs. Economists largely maintained their forecasts for January PCE inflation, due to be published on Thursday. Inflation is expected to have accelerated following larger-than-expected increases in consumer, producer and import prices in January.

The pick-up in inflation, which led financial markets to push back rate-cut expectations to June from May, were attributed to price rises at the beginning of the year.

Economists expect core PCE inflation rose 0.4% in January, with the risk of it being rounded up to 0.5%. The core PCE price index climbed 0.2% in December. In the 12 months through January, core inflation was forecast to increase by about 2.9%, matching December's rise.

Since March 2022, the U.S. central bank has raised its policy rate by 525 basis points to the current 5.25%-5.50% range.

Stocks on Wall Street were trading lower on Wednesday, while the dollar edged higher against a basket of currencies. Prices of U.S. Treasuries ticked up.

"The mix of spending in the fourth quarter shifted to more final demand," said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York. "This revision may lift projections for first-quarter growth modestly."

The Atlanta Fed is currently estimating GDP to rise at a 3.2% rate in the first quarter. But not every economist is dismissing the weakness in the January economic data as a weather-related phenomenon. Some also noted that business spending on equipment, which was revised to show it contracting instead of rising last quarter, appears to have remained subdued last month.

Shipments of non-defense capital goods fell by the most in more than three years in January. Consumer confidence has also soured somewhat and the trade deficit appears to have widened in January. The goods trade deficit increased 2.6% to $90.2 last month, the Commerce Department's Census Bureau said in a separate report on Wednesday.

Exports rose 0.2% to $170.4 billion, but were outpaced by a 1.1% jump in imports to $260.6 billion. Exports added 0.69 percentage point to GDP growth last quarter.

"The U.S. economy continues to lead the world, but for how long is the question," said Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York. "It would not take much to upset the apple cart and turn the economic outlook sour later this year with geopolitical risks never far away."

Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao

Source: Reuters

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