Monday 18 December 2017

US economy slows in fourth quarter, but growth outlook still favorable


US economic growth braked more sharply than initially thought in the fourth quarter amid a slow pace of stock accumulation by businesses and a wider trade deficit, but the underlying fundamentals remained solid.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.2 percent annual pace, revised down from the 2.6 percent pace estimated last month, the Commerce Department said on Friday. The economy grew at a 5 percent rate in the third quarter.

With consumer spending accelerating at its quickest pace since the first quarter of 2006 and sturdy gains in other measures of domestic demand, the slowdown in growth is likely to be temporary.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was revised down by one-tenth of a percentage point to a 4.2 percent pace in the fourth quarter, still the fastest since the first quarter of 2006.

A tightening labor market and lower gasoline prices are likely to keep supporting domestic demand and help the economy navigate a turbulent global economy.

Business spending on equipment was revised to show it rising at a 0.9 percent rate instead of the previously reported 1.9 percent contraction.

A first-quarter acceleration is now in the cards, with data on Thursday showing a rebound in business spending intentions in January after four straight months of declines.

Growth in final sales to domestic purchasers, a key measure of domestic demand, was revised to a 3.2 percent pace from the previous 2.8 percent rate.

The fourth-quarter growth revision was generally in line with expectations.

U.S. Treasury prices extended losses after the data, while the U.S. dollar trimmed earlier losses against a basket of currencies. U.S. stock index futures were pointing to a slightly lower open.

Businesses accumulated $88.4 billion worth of inventory in the fourth quarter, far less than the $113.1 billion the government had estimated last month.

That resulted in the GDP growth contribution from inventories being revised down to one-tenth of a percentage point from 0.8 percentage point previously.

The slower pace of inventory accumulation, however, will be a boost to first-quarter GDP growth.

Strong domestic demand sucked in more imports than previously reported, resulting in a trade deficit, which subtracted 1.15 percentage points from GDP growth instead of the previously reported 1.02 percentage point drag.

Despite the strong consumption, inflation pressures were muted in the fourth quarter, with the personal consumption expenditures price index falling at a 0.4 percent rate - the weakest reading since early 2009. The PCE index was previously reported to have declined at a 0.5 percent pace.

Excluding food and energy, prices rose at an unrevised 1.1 percent pace, the slowest since the second quarter of 2013.

The low inflation environment suggests little urgency for the Federal Reserve to start raising interest rates from near zero, where they have been since December 2008.

Residential construction spending in the fourth quarter was revised down, while government spending was not as weak as previously reported.


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