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Economy Grew Less Than Thought As 2013 Came To A Close

Feb 28, 2014

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Mark Memmott

The U.S. economy grew at a 2.4 percent annual rate in fourth-quarter 2013, the Bureau of Economic Analysis said Friday, as it significantly cut its estimate of how much gross domestic product grew during the last three months of the year.

When the bureau issued his initial estimate for growth in the quarter, it said GDP had expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate.

According to Bloomberg News, "smaller gains in consumer spending, inventories and exports weighed on an economy already slowed by the 16-day partial shutdown of federal agencies in October and weaker government spending."

Reuters says "consumer spending and exports were less robust than initially thought, leaving the economy on a more sustainable path of modest expansion. ... 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 percent rate, still the fastest pace since the first quarter of 2012. It had previously been reported to have grown at a 3.3 percent pace."

With the revision, the bureau now says that GDP grew 2.5 percent from the end of 2012 through the end of 2013. That's up from the 2 percent growth each of the previous two years.

Update at 10:30 a.m. ET. Things Should Heat Up.

NPR's Marilyn Geewax sends us this analysis and look ahead:

On Christmas Eve, did you end up putting fewer gifts under the tree than you had originally planned?

If so, then you are the culprit.

Your penny-pinching decisions — along with disruptive snow storms — reduced consumer spending. As a result, the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Friday lowered its estimate of economic growth for the period covering October, November and December.

Economists, who spent Friday morning poring over the BEA report, are saying snow-storm-weary consumers pulled back on their holiday spending during those months. The downward revision was "largely traceable to slow retail sales growth during the end of 2013," IHS Global Insight chief U.S. economist Doug Handler wrote in his analysis.

Even though it's still crazy cold in much of the country, most economists are saying growth will heat up a bit in this new year. The GDP is growing at an annual rate of about 2.5 percent now even "with the weather weighing on sales of consumer durable goods, especially cars, and construction," PNC chief economist Stuart Hoffman said in his assessment.

For all of 2014, Hoffman sees growth of about 2.9 percent — a decent rate of expansion, but not great.

Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. What's It Mean For Fed Policy?

James Knightley, an economist at ING Bank in London, tells The Financial Times that:

"Unfortunately, it looks as though first-quarter GDP growth is going to be soft too given the damaging impact from bad weather.

"However, the Federal Reserve appears prepared for this and expect it to be merely a temporary effect. As such we look for the Fed to continue with the tapering of their [bond-buying] program at the March FOMC meeting."

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