Obama economy roars along: 0.2% growth in 1st quarter

First quarter growth figures are out and economists are "surprised" that our economy grew only 0.2%. 

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the economy expanding at a 1.0 percent rate. While the weak GDP figures could rattle financial markets, the growth slowdown is probably not a true reflection of the economy's health, given the role of temporary factors such as the weather and the ports dispute.

As always, the media is desperate to put lipstick on a pig by claiming weather or some other kind of magical hindrance on economic growth. How about blaming Obama's economic policies? That appears to be the exclusive reserve of Republican presidents.

The first-quarter GDP snapshot was released just hours before U.S. Federal Reserve officials conclude a two-day policy meeting. Policymakers at the central bank are expected to acknowledge the softer growth, but shrug it off as temporary in a statement they will issue after their gathering.

While there are signs the economy is pulling out of the soft patch, data on home building, manufacturing, retail sales and business investment suggest the rebound will lack the vigor seen last year when the economy snapped back after being blindsided by cold weather.

At the start of this year, many economists believed the Fed would raise interest rates from near zero in June. Now, most of the guessing centers around September.

The government did not quantify the impact of the weather, the strong dollar and the ports disruptions on growth last quarter. Economists, however, estimate unusually cold weather in February chopped off as much as half a percentage point, with the port disruptions shaving off a further 0.3 percentage point.

The weather impact was evident in weakness in consumer spending. Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, slowed to a 1.9 percent rate. That was the slowest in a year and followed a brisk 4.4 percent pace in the fourth quarter.

The sharp moderation in consumer spending came even though households enjoyed huge savings from a big drop in gasoline prices. Consumers boosted their savings to $727.8 billion from $603.4 billion in the fourth quarter.

Construction also took a hit from the weather, while lower energy prices, which have cut into domestic oil production, undermined business investment.

Note that even if the weather had been balmy and if the ports labor problem didn't exist, economic growth would have been an anemic 1%. And that's with a massive decrease in gas and heating oil prices, putting nearly $200 billion in the pockets of consumers.

The economy is like Gulliver being restrained by thousands of tiny Lilliputian ropes, straining to get off the ground. The Obama administration keeps adding restraints to  keep Gulliver pinned. Gulliver will only break free when someone comes along and cuts a few of those ropes.

An outcome that won't occur until 2016 at the earliest.