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U.S. GDP Contraction Slows, but the Road to Economic Recovery Will Be Rocky

Economics / Economic Recovery Aug 03, 2009 - 09:10 AM GMT

By: Money_Morning


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleBob Blandeburgo writes: While the many of the world’s economies continue to look for signs of growth, the U.S. economy took a big step in the right the direction in the second quarter.

U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 1% in the second quarter, following the first quarter’s 6.4% drop. The $787 billion Obama stimulus package, smaller decreases in business spending and slowing erosion of the housing market all helped to slow GDP contraction, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. A poll of 78 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News showed a median estimate of a 1.5% decline in GDP.

“The recession is slowing but we still need to get households and businesses to start spending again,” said Joel Naroff, president of Naroff Economic Advisors, Inc.

With such a dramatic drop in the rate of contraction, the third quarter could sport the first expansion in more than a year. The last time the GDP grew was the second quarter of last year, thanks in large part to the $112.4 billion in stimulus payments to taxpayers.

Despite rising unemployment and a looming jobless recovery, Naroff is optimistic about consumer spending.

“Vehicle sales were actually up from the first quarter and are likely to be even better this quarter, so consumer weakness should not be a major concern,” Naroff said, adding that he’s optimistic that strong growth isn’t far off. “[GDP growth] could be either the third or fourth quarter and could approach 5%.”

Still, until there is real growth in consumer spending, any recovery will be difficult to sustain.

“We’ll get more support from government programs in the second half, but if you want a strong recovery, you need a strong consumer, and we are not seeing that,” Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight Inc. told Bloomberg.

A recovery may have to rely on business and government spending. Business investments, while still falling, slowed to a rate of 8.9% in the second quarter, a far cry from the first quarter’s 40% drop. The decline equipment and software purchases also slowed, falling a modest 9% compared to 36.4% in the previous quarter.

On the government side, federal officials – including U.S. President Barack Obama – say less than a quarter of the stimulus package has been spent so far.

“You just can’t push [funding] out that quickly, partly, not just because the federal government has to process applications but also because states and local governments have to gear up to get these projects going,” President Obama said in an interview with Fox News earlier this month.

Without consumer spending, which makes up more than two-thirds of the economy, any recovery will likely be agonizingly slow.

“We’re going from recession to recovery, but at least early on, it’s not going to feel like one,” said the chief economist at Moody’s, Mark Zandi in an interview with The New York Times. “For economists, this is a seminal part in the business cycle, but for most Americans, it won’t mean much.”

Indeed, the unemployed or the underemployed struggling to make ends meet it’s hard to be optimistic, even as the markets, corporate profits and other economic data show improvement.

“At some point it becomes Obama’s economy, not Bush’s economy anymore,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the liberal research group Center for Economic and Policy Research told The Times. “He made a big mistake in overselling the first stimulus, and then in celebrating all the ‘green shoots.’ That just opens the door for people to say, ‘Where are my green shoots? I still don’t have a job.’ ”

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