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US economy grew at strong 3.5% annual rate last quarter

Published:Friday | December 23, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Janet Yellen, chair of the US Federal Reserve.

The United States economy grew at a 3.5 per cent annual rate in the July-September quarter, the fastest pace in two years and more than the government had previously estimated. But the growth spurt isn't expected to last.

The gain in the gross domestic product (GDP), the economy's total output of goods and services, came from added strength in consumer spending, business investment and the government sector, the Commerce Department said on Thursday. The government had previously estimated last quarter's annual growth rate at 3.2 per cent.

The economy's acceleration last quarter marked a sharp pickup from the tepid annual growth of 0.8 per cent in the first quarter and 1.4 per cent in the second. Still, growth is expected to slow to a roughly 1.5 per cent annual rate in the October-December quarter, reflecting in part less consumer spending and less business stockpiling.

Growth for the entire year, economists say, is likely to be around 1.5 per cent. That would be down from 2.6 per cent in 2015 and would be the weakest performance since the economy shrank 2.8 per cent in 2009 at the depths of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s. The recovery began in mid-2009, but growth has averaged just over two per cent, the weakest expansion in the post-World War II period.

President-elect Donald Trump had criticised the sluggish pace of growth during the campaign and said his economic policies would accelerate annual GDP growth to four per cent or better. To do that, Trump said he would eliminate many government regulations, boost spending on the nation's ageing infrastructure and slash taxes.

Most economists don't think four per cent growth is realistic, given a chronic slowdown in worker productivity and a slower-growing US workforce due, in part, to retiring baby boomers.

Most forecasters expect growth of around 2.5 per cent next year, though they say those estimates could rise if Trump wins congressional support for much of his economic programme. Stock markets have risen sharply since Trump's election, partly a reflection of optimism that his proposals would boost growth and corporate profits.

Thursday's report was the government's third and final estimate of GDP growth for the July-September quarter. The upward revision mainly reflected stronger consumer spending, which grew at a three per cent annual rate, more than the 2.8 per cent pace that was estimated a month ago.

- AP