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The US economy shrank in the first quarter

Vanesa SojorAttachmentsApr 29, 2022, 7:27 PM (4 hours ago)
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The US economy shrank in the first quarter

America’s economy unexpectedly shrank in the first quarter of 2022,
data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showed Thursday. The
nation’s gross domestic product — the broadest measure of economic
activity — declined at an annualized rate of 1.4% between January and
March in an abrupt reversal of the prior year’s strong growth. While
one quarter does not yet make a trend, it is a warning sign for how
the recovery is going: Two straight quarters of declining growth meet
a commonly used definition of a recession. It was a marked slowdown
from the 6.9% growth pace recorded in the final quarter of last year,
and the worst performance since the pandemic recession in the second
quarter of 2020. Economists had predicted an annualized growth rate of
1.1%, according to Refinitiv. Despite the lower numbers, President Joe
Biden categorized the US economy as “resilient in the face of historic
challenges,” in a statement released Thursday morning.”While last
quarter’s growth estimate was affected by technical factors, the
United States confronts the challenges of Covid-19 around the world,
Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and global inflation from a
position of strength,” the statement said.

What drove the decline?

Much of the first-quarter decline in the United States was due to a
decrease in inventory investment, which had been booming in the final
months of 2021. That means the GDP decline should be taken with a
grain of salt, warned Ryan Sweet, senior director of economic research
at Moody’s Analytics, on Wednesday before the data was published.
Exports and government spending also fell, while imports rose.
Consumer spending, which is vital to the economy, increased as prices
kept rising. Americans spent more on services, led by health care.
That offset a small decline in goods spending, which shrank due to
lower spending on gas. Gas prices shot through the roof in response to
Russia’s war in Ukraine, which jolted energy markets around the world.
The price index tracking personal consumption expenditure rose 7% in
the first three months of the year, or 5.2% when stripping out energy
and food prices.”It is unfortunate that this GDP rate did not meet
expectations, but unsurprising as the US economy remains very volatile
with geopolitical turbulence from the war in Ukraine, a global supply
chain crisis, increasing inflation, and the ongoing Covid-19
pandemic,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, in
emailed comments. “All of these factors have shrunk GDP growth rates
around the globe.”The second estimate of first-quarter GDP growth will
be published at the end of May.

What this means for the Fed

The unexpected GDP decline likely didn’t change the immediate outlook
for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy. The central bank, which is
starting to reverse course after a period of ultra-loose policies
during the pandemic, is expected to raise interest rates next week. It
would be the second rate hike of the year. The vast majority of market
participants expect a half-percentage-point increase, up from the
quarter-point hike announced in March. Earlier this month, Fed
Chairman Jerome Powell said a bigger rate hike was on the table for
the May meeting.” The Fed will continue to press on the policy brakes
with increased determination over the coming months as inflation shows
pesky persistence,” said Greg Daco, chief economist at EY-Parthenon.
While economists still hope that March may have marked the pandemic
inflation peak, only the April economic data, which is still some
weeks out, can confirm that. On Friday, the Commerce Department will
report the Personal Consumption Expenditures, or PCE, the price index
for March.

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