Consumer Spending Bolsters Second-Quarter Growth

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AP
By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON -- U.S. economic growth accelerated in the second quarter as solid consumer spending offset the drag from weak business spending on equipment, suggesting a steady momentum that could bring the Federal Reserve closer to hiking interest rates this year.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.3 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said Thursday. First-quarter GDP, previously reported to have shrunk at a 0.2 percent pace, was revised up to show it rising at a 0.6 percent rate.

The revision to first-quarter growth reflected steps taken by the government to refine the seasonal adjustment for some components of GDP, which economists said left residual seasonality in the data, as well as new source data.

The Fed on Wednesday described the economy as expanding "moderately" while upgrading its view of the labor market and saying housing had shown "additional" improvement. The Fed's assessment left the door open for a possible hike in interest rates in September, which would be the first rise since 2006.

A separate report showed first-time applications for state unemployment benefits increased 12,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 267,000. However, claims remained not too far from their cycle lows.

The dollar extended gains against a basket of currencies, while prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell slightly.

Though second-quarter GDP growth was a bit below economists' expectations for a 2.6 percent rate, the growth composition pointed to firming domestic fundamentals.

A measure of private domestic demand, which excludes trade, inventories and government expenditures, increased at a 2.5 percent rate after rising at a 2 percent pace at the start of the year.

Growth in the second quarter was boosted by consumer spending as households used some of the windfall from cheaper gasoline in late 2014 and early this year to go shopping. The strengthening labor market also encouraged consumers to loosen their purse strings.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, grew at a 2.9 percent rate from a downwardly revised 1.8 percent pace in the first quarter. Consumer spending was previously reported to have increased at a 2.1 percent rate at the start of the year.

The saving rate fell to 4.8 percent from 5.2 percent.

Energy Drag Persists

Housing also supported the economy in the second quarter, as did exports, and state and local government spending.

However, the energy sector continued to weigh on growth as it struggles with the lingering effects of deep spending cuts by oil-field companies like Schlumberger and Halliburton in the aftermath of a more than 60 percent plunge in crude oil prices last year.

Business spending on structures fell at a 1.6 percent rate after stumbling 7.4 percent at the start of the year. Investment on equipment fell at a 4.1 percent rate.

Spending on mining exploration, wells and shafts plunged at a 68.2 percent rate, the largest decline since the second quarter of 1986. This category dropped at a 44.5 percent pace in the first quarter.

But there are signs that the energy spending rout might be nearing an end. Data last Friday showed U.S. energy firms added 21 oil rigs last week, marking the third increase over the past 33 weeks.

Schlumberger said last week it believed the North American rig count may be bottoming and that a slow rise in both land drilling and completion activity could occur in the second half of the year.

Exports rebounded in the second quarter, despite a strong dollar, while imports rose moderately. That left a smaller trade deficit that added 0.13 percentage point to GDP growth.

Inventory investment slowed after the first quarter's brisk pace. Businesses accumulated $110 billion worth of merchandise, down from $112.8 billion in the first quarter, good news for the remainder of the year.

With oil prices rising during the second quarter and consumer spending picking up, inflation accelerated sharply.

The personal consumption expenditures price index rebounded at a 2.2 percent rate, the fastest since the first quarter of 2012, after falling at a 1.9 percent rate at the start of the year. Excluding food and energy, prices increased at a 1.8 percent pace.

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Consumer Spending Bolsters Second-Quarter Growth
The gross domestic product measures the level of economic activity within a country. To figure the number, the Bureau of Economic Analysis combines the total consumption of goods and services by private individuals and businesses; the total investment in capital for producing goods and services; the total amount spent and consumed by federal, state, and local government entities; and total net exports. It's important, because it serves as the primary gauge of whether the economy is growing or not. Most economists define a recession as two or more consecutive quarters of shrinking GDP.
The CPI measures current price levels for the goods and services that Americans buy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics collects price data on a basket of different items, ranging from necessities like food, clothing and housing to more discretionary expenses like eating out and entertainment. The resulting figure is then compared to those of previous months to determine the inflation rate, which is used in a variety of ways, including cost-of-living increases for Social Security and other government benefits.
The unemployment rate measures the percentage of workers within the total labor force who don't have a job, but who have looked for work in the past four weeks, and who are available to work. Those temporarily laid off from their jobs are also included as unemployed. Yet as critical as the figure is as a measure of how many people are out of work and therefore suffering financial hardship from a lack of a paycheck, one key item to note about the unemployment rate is that the number does not reflect workers who have stopped looking for work entirely. It's therefore important to look beyond the headline numbers to see whether the overall workforce is growing or shrinking.
The trade deficit measures the difference between the value of a nation's imported and exported goods. When exports exceed imports, a country runs a trade surplus. But in the U.S., imports have exceeded exports consistently for decades. The figure is important as a measure of U.S. competitiveness in the global market, as well as the nation's dependence on foreign countries.
Each month, the Bureau of Economic Analysis measures changes in the total amount of income that the U.S. population earns, as well as the total amount they spend on goods and services. But there's a reason we've combined them on one slide: In addition to being useful statistics separately for gauging Americans' earning power and spending activity, looking at those numbers in combination gives you a sense of how much people are saving for their future.
Consumers play a vital role in powering the overall economy, and so measures of how confident they are about the economy's prospects are important in predicting its future health. The Conference Board does a survey asking consumers to give their assessment of both current and future economic conditions, with questions about business and employment conditions as well as expected future family income.
The health of the housing market is closely tied to the overall direction of the broader economy. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, named for economists Karl Case and Robert Shiller, provides a way to measure home prices, allowing comparisons not just across time but also among different markets in cities and regions of the nation. The number is important not just to home builders and home buyers, but to the millions of people with jobs related to housing and construction.
Most economic data provides a backward-looking view of what has already happened to the economy. But the Conference Board's Leading Economic Index attempts to gauge the future. To do so, the index looks at data on employment, manufacturing, home construction, consumer sentiment, and the stock and bond markets to put together a complete picture of expected economic conditions ahead.
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