May 24, 2017

U.S. Economy Grew 1.7% During the 2nd Quarter, Topping Forecasts

The mixed picture facing the country was evident on Wednesday, as the Commerce Department reported that the economy, adjusted for inflation, expanded at a better-than-expected annual rate of 1.7 percent in the April-June quarter, even as inflation-adjusted growth in the first part of the year now appears slower than first thought. In a separate statement after a two-day meeting of policy makers at the Federal Reserve, the central bank said the economy was on a “modest” trajectory but gave no clue as to when it might start tapering back its huge stimulus efforts.

Like economists and traders, as well as the 12 million unemployed Americans looking for work, the Fed is struggling to gauge whether better growth does indeed lie ahead.

Optimists point to improved levels of job creation in recent months, a more robust housing sector and a surging stock market that has lifted the value of investment and retirement accounts for millions of consumers. Pessimists focus on the fact that the estimated economic growth rate of about 1.4 percent so far in 2013 is well below last year’s levels of 2.8 percent, even as automatic cuts in federal spending and higher taxes continue to bite.

There were pockets of strength in Wednesday’s data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, all of which will be subject to further revision as the Commerce Department gathers more information about the economy. For example, residential fixed investment increased by 13.4 percent, a sign that housing continues to rebound. Personal consumption rose 1.8 percent, as consumers showed some resiliency, especially given the increase in payroll taxes at the beginning of 2013.

Additionally, government experts have introduced the first comprehensive change in four years in how the economy is measured. They revised figures all the way back to 1929, while also restating more recent data to show that the 2007-9 recession was slightly milder than originally estimated and growth in 2012 was a bit better.

Still, economists emphasized that although the economy’s performance in the second quarter was significantly stronger than had been feared — Wall Street experts forecast growth would come in at just under 1 percent — big challenges remain.

“The basic story of a deep recession followed by a lackluster recovery is essentially unchanged,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS. Growth in the current quarter, which wraps up at the end of next month, remains a wild card, he added. IHS and other companies do expect a pickup in the second half of 2013, but more fallout from the fiscal tightening in Washington could still be felt, he cautioned.

“So far the effects have been fairly muted,” Mr. Behravesh said. “We’re puzzling over that.”

Were it not for the federal cuts, growth would have been close to 2 percent in both the first and second quarters, said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research. But that’s about the best Americans can hope for, he said, at least in 2013.

“I don’t see the economy breaking away from that 2 percent rate for now,” Mr. Blitz said. He is more optimistic about 2014, when he said he thought the annual rate of growth could rise to about 3.5 percent. “The economy will have adjusted to the downshift in federal spending by then, and Europe won’t be decelerating as rapidly, nor will China and Japan,” he said.

The pace at which spending by the federal government is dropping stabilized last quarter. It fell by 1.5 percent, compared with an 8.4 percent decrease in the first quarter of 2013 and a 13.9 percent plunge in the final quarter of 2012.

More clues about the economy’s performance will come on Friday, when the Labor Department reports on monthly job creation and the unemployment rate. Economists estimate the economy created 185,000 jobs in July, according to a Bloomberg survey, a bit below the 195,000 level in June, with the unemployment rate falling to 7.5 percent, from 7.6 percent.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/01/business/economy/us-economy-grew-by-1-7-in-2nd-quarter-faster-than-expected.html?partner=rss&emc=rss