US economy loses momentum in Q4

Washington, January 29

The US economy slowed sharply in the fourth quarter of last year to a 0.7 per cent pace of growth, due to the oil price crash and the strong dollar’s drag on exports.

Consumer spending slowed somewhat but spending on homes held up in a sign of some tenacity amid a global economic slowdown and market turbulence.

It was the second straight quarterly deceleration, and a bit worse than the 0.9 per cent rate that analysts had forecast.

Gross domestic product expansion was two per cent in the third quarter of 2015 and a brisk 3.9 per cent in the second.

The slowdown came on the back of slumping business investment in buildings and equipment, related in part to the deep contraction in the oil sector.

Also hitting growth was a drop in exports, linked to the strong dollar and slowing demand abroad.

Imports also fell, helped by the lower cost of imported crude oil, but overall the net trade deficit was a larger drag on GDP growth than in previous months.

Supporting growth was consumer spending on durable goods, which slowed slightly, and services, which was barely changed from the previous quarter.

Also strong was home building and buying, and government spending. Falling federal government spending has been a persistent drag on economic output for several years; in the fourth quarter a surge in especially defence-related spending made a solid contribution to overall growth.

The quarter rounded out a year that was somewhat disappointing, after early estimates forecast that economic activity might expand by as much as three per cent.

In the end, for the full year the economy mustered a 2.4 per cent expansion, the same as in 2014.

Analysts took the data as a warning that the economy could be at the start of a soft patch.

But the growth estimate for the period, the first from the Commerce Department, is subject to often significant revisions as more data comes in.