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Dublin: 7 °C Tuesday 19 February, 2019
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US economy suffers sharpest contraction in five years

Severe weather, weak consumer spending growth and higher imports all played a role, according to US Commerce Dept.

Image: AP/Press Association Images

The US economy shrank much more than previously estimated in the first quarter, in the sharpest contraction in five years, the Commerce Department said today.

Gross domestic product fell at a 2.9% annual pace in the first three months of the year, much worse than the previous estimate of 1%. 

It was the steepest contraction since the 2009 first quarter, when GDP plunged 5.4% during the deep recession spawned by the 2008 financial crisis.

The Commerce Department said figures showed weaker growth in consumer spending, a larger increase in exports and higher imports than previous estimates.

The economy was hit by unusually severe winter weather in much of the country at the beginning of the year, after growth of 2.6% in the 2013 fourth quarter.

But the weak first quarter did not suggest that the US is slipping into recession, technically defined as two consecutive quarters of GDP contraction, as second-quarter data has shown the economy rebounding.

The Federal Reserve has shrugged off the weak first quarter as largely weather-related. In June the Fed cut, for the fifth time in a row, $10bn from its economic stimulus program, bringing it to $35bn a month.

Jim O’Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics, called the first-quarter report “an outlier”.

“If anything, labor market indicators and business surveys are suggesting a net pick-up in the trend so far this year. We expect at least partial payback with a strong 4.0% rate of growth in Q2,” he said.

European stock markets fell today, with losses accelerating after the US figures were reported.

- © AFP, 2014

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