Economy in U.S. ekes out 0.1% gain as trade gap shrank

2012 GDP

GDP grew 3.1% in the third quarter. For all of 2012, the economy expanded 2.2% after a 1.8% increase in the prior year.

The report reflected a revision to trade to now show a decline in the difference between exports and imports. The trade deficit shrank to $387.9 billion, the smallest since the first quarter of 2010, from $395.2 billion in the previous three months. The narrowing contributed 0.24 percent point to growth, a 0.49-point swing from the previously estimated drag.

That was partially offset by an even smaller gain in inventories than initially reported. Stockpiles grew at a revised $12 billion annual pace, down from a $20 billion rate estimated last month. The slowdown subtracted 1.55 percentage points from growth, 0.28-point more than reported last month.

Depleted inventories may signal a first-quarter pickup in production.

Consumer Spending

Consumer purchases, the biggest part of the economy, rose at a 2.1% annualized rate, little changed from the previously estimated advance of 2.2%. The median forecast in the Bloomberg survey projected a 2.3% increase. Personal consumption added 1.47 percentage points to growth. It grew at a 1.6% pace in the third quarter.

Today’s report also revised income data for the third quarter. The gain in wages and salaries for the period from July through September from the prior three months was revised up by $6.8 billion to $39.3 billion.

After-tax income adjusted for inflation rose at a 0.7% annual rate in the third quarter, revised up from a previously estimated 0.5% advance. That resulted in shifting the fourth-quarter gain to 6.2% from 6.8%.

Higher payroll taxes and rising gasoline prices are taking a chunk out of discretionary income this quarter, which may make it difficult to sustain household purchases at the same pace as in the fourth quarter.

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