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US Q4 GDP up 5.7%

February 01, 2010 | "Barron’s Econoday"

Fourth quarter advance estimate of gross domestic product was up more than expected at an annualized rate of 5.7 percent. This was the quickest growth rate in more than six years. Analysts had expected an increase of 4.5 percent. The fourth quarter gain primarily reflected a deceleration in inventory disinvestment (de-stocking), a deceleration in imports and an upturn in nonresidential fixed investment that were partly offset by decelerations in federal government spending and in PCE. Real final sales of domestic product - GDP less change in private inventories - increased 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent in the third.

The change in real private inventories added 3.4 percentage points to the fourth-quarter change in real GDP after adding 0.7 percentage point to the third-quarter change. Private businesses decreased inventories $33.5 billion in the fourth quarter, following decreases of $139.2 billion in the third quarter and $160.2 billion in the second.

Fourth quarter real personal consumption expenditures increased 2.0 percent compared with an increase of 2.8 percent in the third. Durable goods declined 0.9 percent, in contrast to an increase of 20.4 percent. Nondurable goods increased 4.3 percent, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent. Services increased 1.7 percent, compared with an increase of 0.8 percent.

Real nonresidential fixed investment increased 2.9 percent in the fourth quarter, in contrast to a decrease of 5.9 percent in the third. Nonresidential structures decreased 15.4 percent, compared with a decrease of 18.4 percent. Equipment and software increased 13.3 percent, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent. Real residential fixed investment increased 5.7 percent, compared with an increase of 18.9 percent.

Real federal government consumption expenditures and gross investment edged up 0.1 percent after jumping 8 percent in the third.

Slower inventory depletion is not the most promising way to guarantee growth and may indicate a slower rate of growth ahead until companies become more confident about the recovery. The biggest challenge to sustainable growth still remains with employment.

Market Consensus Before Announcement

GDP growth in the final estimate for the third quarter was revised downward to an annualized 2.2 percent from the prior estimate of 2.8 percent. Analysts are expecting a second consecutive quarter of positive growth and with momentum building moderately. Component estimates will be important, too. Net exports will likely add to GDP growth as well as inventory building. Key question marks will be how well consumer spending holds up, how strong will a second quarter of housing investment growth be, and how much does nonresidential investment decline?

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