The Bureau of Economic Analysis said that real GDP growth grew 1.4 percent at the annual rate in the fourth quarter. This was higher than the prior estimates of 0.7 percent and 1.0 percent. This latest revision reflected improvements in spending on services and growth in exports, but inventory spending was slower than in the most recent data release. Here are some trends in the data of note:
- Personal consumption expenditures added 1.66 percentage points to real GDP growth in the fourth quarter, increasing 2.4 percent at the annual rate. The bulk of that contribution came from services, which added 1.30 percent to the headline figure, especially from spending on food services, health care and recreation. In contrast, spending on durable and nondurable goods eased from growth rates seen in the third quarter, suggesting that consumers were holding back in the fourth quarter from making larger purchases.
- Businesses were also holding back on capital spending. Nonresidential fixed investment subtracted 0.27 percentage points from real GDP in the fourth quarter, with decreased spending on equipment, intellectual property products and structures. Slower inventory spending was also a factor, subtracting 0.22 percentage points. In contrast, residential investment rose by an annualized 10.1 percent in the fourth quarter on strength in the housing market, adding 0.33 percentage points. As a whole, gross private domestic investment served as a drag on real GDP growth, reducing the headline figure by 0.16 percentage points.
- Net exports were also a drag on growth, subtracting 0.14 percentage points from real GDP in the quarter. Goods exports declined by 5.4 percent at the annual rate in this report; whereas, goods imports were off by 1.3 percent. These data illustrate the significant headwinds faced by manufacturers from the strong dollar and sluggish economic growth in key markets. Indeed, U.S.-manufactured goods exports fell 6.1 percent last year.
Overall, demand and output remain significantly challenged in the manufacturing sector, and business leaders remain nervous in their economic outlook. The current expectation is for real GDP to increase by 2.1 percent in 2016, with manufacturing production up 1.5 percent.