A silver lining to the anemic growth; consumer spending rose faster than expected. Still, this is hardly good news when business spending falls 2.1% after roaring ahead at 5.2% in the fourth quarter of last year. And with consumer confidence tanking, and first time jobless claims spiking, the future looks just as dreary as the past.
The Commerce Department, in its initial reading of how the economy fared as the new year began, reported Friday that gross domestic product expanded at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the first three months of the year. That's down from a 3.0 percent rate in the fourth quarter and below economists' expectations of a 2.5 percent pace.
A surge in consumer spending took some of the sting from the report. Growth was still stronger than analysts' predictions early in the quarter for an expansion below 1.5 percent.
"Certainly a bit of a mixed picture, a disappointment on the headline coming in at 2.2 versus expectations of 2.5. Personal consumption was positive. But overall weaker-than-expected GDP," said Camilla Sutton, chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital.
Although the details were mixed, the GDP report offered a somewhat better picture of growth compared with the fourth quarter, when inventory building accounted for nearly two thirds of the economy's growth. In the first quarter, demand from consumers took up the slack.
Consumer spending which accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity, increased at a 2.9 percent rate - the fastest pace since the fourth quarter of 2010. That compared to a 2.1 percent rise in the fourth quarter.
There were some signs of underlying strength, with even home construction rising at its fastest pace since the second quarter of 2010, thanks to the unusually warm winter.
But business spending fell for the first time since the fourth quarter of 2009, with investment in equipment and software rising at its slowest pace since the recession ended.
Business spending fell at a 2.1 percent pace after rising 5.2 percent in the fourth quarter.
Using home construction as a benchmark for economic health is ludicrous. There was absolutely no place for that number to go but up so any increase is meaningless.
Over the next few months, the 1st Quarter GDP will inevitably be adjusted. If the estimates fall, the danger of another downturn presents itself. And Obama will be talking even less about the economy and more about the GOP being "out of touch" with ordinary Americans.