U.S. GDP Grows At Annual Rate Of 1.3 Percent In Second Quarter, Missing Expectations

07/29/2011 08:54 am ET | Updated Sep 28, 2011

The economy grew less than expected in the second quarter as consumer spending barely rose amid higher gasoline prices, and growth braked sharply in the prior quarter, a government report showed on Friday.

Growth in gross domestic product -- a measure of all goods and services produced within U.S. borders - rose at a 1.3 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said. First-quarter output was sharply revised down to a 0.4 percent pace from 1.9 percent.

Economists had expected the economy to expand at a 1.8 percent rate in the second quarter.

In addition, fourth-quarter growth was revised down to a 2.3 percent pace from 3.1 percent, indicating that the economy had already started slowing before the high gasoline prices and supply chain disruptions from Japan hit.

Economists had expected the economy would show signs of perking up by now with Japan supply constraints easing and gasoline prices off their high, but data has disappointed. This and the sharp downward revisions to the prior quarters suggest a more troubling and fundamental slowdown might be underway.

There is also heightened uncertainty over the outlook because of the impasse in talks to raise the nation's borrowing limit and avoid a damaging government debt default.

The Treasury says the government will soon run out of money to pay all its bills.

Economists have warned that a debt default could push the fragile economy over the edge.

"The implications of more rancorous foot dragging would be bad for an economy already in a precarious state," said Julia Coronado, chief North America economist at BNP Paribas in New York. "Uncertainty continues to tax an already fragile recovery."

Data released on Friday showed the 2007-2009 recession was much more severe than prior measures had found, with economic output declining a cumulative of 5.1 percent instead of 4.1 percent.

The annual revisions of U.S. GDP data from the Commerce Department showed the economy contracted at an annual average rate of 0.3 percent between 2007 and 2010. Output over that stretch had previously been estimated to have been flat.

The economy needs to grow at a rate of 2.5 percent or better on a sustained basis to chip away at the nation's 9.2 percent unemployment rate.

CONSUMER SPENDING BRAKE SHARPLY

The March earthquake in Japan severely disrupted U.S. auto production. The resulting shortage of motor vehicles weighed on retail sales as consumers were unable to find the models they wanted. That combined with high gasoline costs to curb spending.

Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, decelerated sharply to a 0.1 percent rate -- the weakest since the recession ended two years ago.

Spending grew at a 2.1 percent pace in the first quarter.

Motor vehicle production subtracted 0.12 percentage point from gross domestic product growth in the second quarter, after adding 1.08 percentage points to first-quarter GDP growth.

The composition of growth in the April-June quarter was weak and could prompt economists to dial down their expectations for a quick and solid rebound in the third quarter.

A smaller trade deficit , as imports slowed, was one of the main contributors to the rise in second-quarter growth, with businesses spending and inventory investment also adding to output.

Government spending declined again in the second quarter as state and local authorities continued to pare their budgets, even though defense expenditures rebounded at 7.3 percent rate after contracting at a 12.6 percent rate in the first three months of the year.

Home building rose at a 3.8 percent pace, while investment in nonresidential structures increased at an 8.1 percent rate.

The easing of the auto parts disruptions and a drop in gasoline prices could be a tail wind to third-quarter growth, but economists are concerned that June data was rather weak.

"All the data we got for June thus far suggest that as we entered the third quarter, we did not gain any momentum setting up for a good third quarter," said Christopher Probyn, chief economist at State Street Global Advisors in Boston. "We are not starting the third quarter on a positive note," said Probyn, speaking before the GDP report was released.

The report also showed a moderation in inflation pressures, with the personal consumption expenditure price index rising at a 3.1 percent rate after rising 3.9 percent in the first quarter. Excluding food and energy, the core PCE index rose 2.1 percent, the fastest since the fourth quarter of 2009, after rising 1.6 percent in the first quarter. It overshot the Federal Reserve's preferred 2.0 percent level.

Copyright 2011 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

YOU MAY LIKE