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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Economy shrinks for first time in two years

The U.S. economy shrank last quarter for the first time since the pandemic recession struck two years ago, contracting at a 1.4% annual rate, but consumers and businesses kept spending in a sign of underlying resilience.

The negative growth rate missed even the subdued Dow Jones estimate of a 1% gain for the quarter. GDP measures the output of goods and services in the U.S. for the three-month period.

Despite the disappointing number, markets paid little attention to the report, with stocks and bond yields both mostly higher. Some of the GDP decline came from factors likely to reverse later in the year, raising hopes that the U.S. can avoid a recession.

The steady spending suggested that the economy could keep expanding this year even though the Federal Reserve plans to raise rates aggressively to fight the inflation surge. The first quarter's growth was hampered mainly by a slower restocking of goods in stores and warehouses and by a sharp drop in exports.

The Commerce Department's estimate Thursday of the first quarter's gross domestic product — the nation's total output of goods and services — fell far below the 6.9% annual growth in the fourth quarter of 2021. And for 2021 as a whole, the economy grew 5.7%, the highest calendar-year expansion since 1984.

The economy is facing pressures that have heightened worries about its fundamental health and raised concerns about a possible recession. Inflation is squeezing households as gas and food prices spike, borrowing costs mount and the global economy is rattled by Russia's invasion of Ukraine and China's COVID lockdowns.

A deceleration in private inventory investment weighed on growth after helping propel GDP in the back half of 2021. Other restraints came from exports and government spending across state, federal and local governments, as well as rising imports.

“This is noise; not signal. The economy is not falling into recession,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics. “Net trade has been hammered by a surge in imports, especially of consumer goods, as wholesalers and retailers have sought to rebuild inventory. This cannot persist much longer, and imports in due course will drop outright, and net trade will boost GDP growth in Q2 and/or Q3.”

While recession expectations on Wall Street remain low, there’s further trouble ahead for the economy: In an effort to combat burgeoning price increases, the Federal Reserve plans to enact a series of rate hikes aimed at slowing growth further.

Sources: Associated Press, CNBC

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