The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced that real gross domestic product (GDP) rose 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter. This was mostly in line with forecasts of 3 percent for the quarter. For 2011, real GDP increased 1.7 percent, down from the 3 percent growth rate of 2010.
This quarter’s growth was led by strong increases in fixed investment (including residential), with healthy gains in consumption, inventories and exports. Specifically, consumers contributed 1.45 percentage points (or roughly half) to GDP, with 1.07 percent from durable goods consumption and another 0.27 percent from nondurables. Gross private domestic investment contributed 2.35 percentage points to growth, with the bulk of that coming from the replenishment of inventories. Both residential and nonresidential spending made positive contributions, as well.
Contributions from net exports were slightly negative, with higher imports offsetting the rise in exports. The largest drag on growth, though, came from government contributions. With defense and state and local government spending cuts, government reduced GDP by 0.93 percentage points.
Overall, these numbers reflect the stronger rebound in economic growth at the end of 2011 that many other indicators have reported earlier. Manufacturing activity, in particular, appeared much healthier in November and December than in the mid-months. With moderate growth in consumer and business spending, the economy turned in its fastest growth pace since the second quarter of 2010.
Moving ahead, manufacturers are optimistic about production, employment and capital spending for 2012, and yet, a number of significant headwinds (particularly from Europe) persist. Moreover, the government sector – which is already providing a drag – will continue to dampen GDP, especially as more austerity measures (including defense and other nondiscretionary spending cuts) start to have real effects on the manufacturing community.
Despite the concerns, we are seeing some positive news and reports that manufacturing is strengthening as seen in this report from the Financial Times. While growth may be slow, it is on the rise and it is expected to continue.
Chad Moutray is chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.