Disappointing Q4 GDP: The Taming of Growth

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The U.S. Commerce Department has released its preliminary reading on fourth-quarter gross domestic product (GDP). Though the number is lower than the firm’s growth figure of 5.0% for the third quarter and 4.6% in the second quarter, still a fourth-quarter reading of 2.6% growth in GDP is rather solid, considering the state of the rest of the major economies in the world. This 2.6% reading is less than the estimated 3.2% that Bloomberg was calling for. Still, investors should have ratcheted down their expectations based on the weaker-than-expected durable goods reading earlier¬†this week.

What stands out is an uneven recovery. Consumer confidence and a better jobs market are helping out consumers, as is the impact of lower oil prices. Consumer spending, which some say is 70% of the GDP tally, was up by 4.3% in the fourth quarter. Residential investment also rose, up to 4.1% in the fourth quarter versus 3.2% in the third quarter.

The inflationary component was of little to no help either. The pricing index for personal consumption expenditures was down by 0.5% in the fourth quarter. That compared to a 1.2% gain in the third quarter, and it is far below the Fed’s 2.0% hoped-for inflation target. The core prices outside of food and energy were up only 1.1% in the fourth quarter, down from 1.4% in the third quarter.

Business investment, the core-GDP to some economists, rose by only 1.9%. Businesses spent less on equipment, but they spent more for intellectual property and on structures.

Real final sales of domestic product by businesses, excluding inventory changes, was up by only 1.8% in the fourth quarter. As far as how much that is down, the third-quarter metric was up a whopping 5.0%.

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Another weak area was Uncle Sam. Government spending was down by 2.2% in the fourth quarter. That may be mostly tied to defense orders.

Exports also did not live up to the prior report. Fourth-quarter exports were up by 2.8%, but that was down from some 4.5% growth in the third quarter.

Stocks were already very weak ahead of the report on Friday morning, and that weakness persisted after the GDP report as well. S&P 500 futures were last seen down almost 17 points and the DJIA futures down almost 150 points.