US fourth quarter growth revised down to 2.4%

Friday 28 February 2014 16.14
US consumers spent less than previously though in the last quarter of 2013
US consumers spent less than previously though in the last quarter of 2013

The US government has cut its estimate for fourth-quarter growth as consumer spending and exports were less robust than initially thought, suggesting some loss of momentum heading into 2014.

US gross domestic product expanded at a 2.4% annual rate, the country's Commerce Department said today. 

That was down sharply from the 3.2% pace reported last month and the 4.1% growth recorded in the third quarter.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected growth would be cut to a 2.5% pace.

It is not unusual for the government to make sharp revisions to GDP numbers, as it does not have complete data when it makes its initial estimates. In fact, the latest figures will be subject to revisions next month as more information is received.

The revision left GDP just above the economy's potential growth trend, which analysts put somewhere between a 2-2.3% pace. 

US consumer spending accounted for a large chunk of the revision after retail sales in November and December came in weaker than assumed.

Consumer spending was cut to a 2.6% rate, but was still the fastest pace since the first quarter of 2012. It had previously been reported to have grown at a 3.3% pace.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of US economic activity, contributed 1.73 percentage points to GDP growth, down from the previously reported 2.26 percentage points. As a result, final domestic demand was lowered two-tenths of a percentage point to a 1.2% rate.

The loss of momentum appears to have spilled over into in the first quarter of 2014, with an unusually cold winter weighing on retail sales, home building and sales, hiring and industrial production.

The Federal Reserve, which has been cutting back on the amount of money it injects into the economy through monthly bond purchases, views the recent soft patch as temporary.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen told lawmakers last night that the cold weather had played a role in the weakening data. She said, however, that it would take a "significant change" to the economy's prospects for the Fed to suspend its plans to wind down its bond buying.

Despite the first quarter's weak start, economists remain optimistic that growth this year will be the strongest since the recession ended almost five years ago. For all of 2013, the economy grew 1.9%.

An increase in inflation also accounted for the downgrading of GDP growth in the fourth quarter. A price index in the GDP report rose at a 1% rate, instead of the previously reported 0.7% rate.

A core measure that strips out food and energy costs increased at a 1.3% rate, revised up from a 1.1% pace.

Trade weighed on fourth-quarter revisions as well, after a fall in exports in December resulted in a bigger trade deficit in the fourth quarter than the government had initially assumed.

Inventories, previously reported to have risen by $127.2 billion in the fourth quarter, were revised down to $117.4 billion. The rise in the stocks of unsold goods was still the largest since early 1998 and followed a gain of $115.7 billion in the third quarter of 2013.

Government spending was also revised down, but the impact was offset by upward revisions to investment in residential construction, non-residential structures and business spending on equipment.