US economy slows

Washington

U.S. economic growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter as a plunge in shipments of soybeans weighed on exports, but steady consumer spending and rising business investment pointed to sustained strength in domestic demand.
Gross domestic product increased at a 1.9 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said recently in its first estimate of fourth-quarter GDP. The economy grew at a 3.5 percent annual rate in the third quarter.
The slowdown masked a surge in home building spending and a rebound in business investment on equipment after four straight quarterly declines.
The economy expanded 1.6 percent for all of 2016, the worst performance since 2011, as it struggled with weak oil prices, a strong dollar and efforts by businesses to reduce a large inventory overhang.
U.S. President Donald Trump vowed during last year’s election campaign to deliver 4 percent annual GDP growth, largely on the back of a plan to cut taxes, reduce regulations and increase infrastructure spending.
“The details of the report were quite sound. The U.S. economic expansion got its mojo back and the momentum appears to be carrying over into 2017,” said Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West in San Francisco.
A measure of private domestic demand increased at a 2.8 percent rate last quarter. Economic growth in the third quarter was driven in part by an outsized jump in soybean exports.
Excluding soybeans, GDP increased at about a 2.7 percent rate in both the third and fourth quarters, according to analysts. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast GDP rising at a 2.2 percent rate in the fourth quarter.
In the first half of 2016, weak corporate profits because of cheaper oil and the robust dollar undercut business spending. The inventory correction resulted in companies placing fewer orders with manufacturers. The economy grew 2.6 percent in 2015.
With oil prices rising and global demand picking up, the economy appears set for continued expansion. A labor market at or near full employment also is starting to lift wages and is supporting consumer spending.—Reuters

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