The Bureau of Economic Analysis revised its real GDP growth figures for the second quarter, up from an estimated 4.0 percent at the annual rate to 4.2 percent. This reflects slightly better fixed investment and net export figures. With that said, the underlying story remains the same. The U.S. economy grew frustratingly slow in the first half of 2014, with the strong rebound in the second quarter coming after a decline of 2.1 percent. Averaging these first two quarters together, real GDP expanded just 1.0 percent at the annual rate.
Consumer and business spending were positives. Goods spending rose an annualized 5.8 percent, adding 1.3 percentage points to real GDP in the second quarter. This was led by strong growth in motor vehicles, household furnishings and appliances and recreational goods. In terms of fixed investment, there were healthy rebounds in business spending on structures and equipment, with the restocking of inventories alone adding 1.4 percentage points to growth. Personal consumption expenditures and gross private domestic investment accounted for 4.3 percentage points of real GDP growth.
The other two components of real GDP were mixed. Government spending added 0.3 percentage points, but reduced defense spending served as a slight drag on growth. The biggest disappointment continues to be the trade figures. Goods exports rebounded strongly in the second quarter, up 13.8 percent, but that followed an 11.9 percent decline in the first quarter. Meanwhile, goods imports rose 2.5 percent and 12.3 percent, respectively, in the first and second quarters. Overall, net exports subtracted 0.4 percentage points from real GDP in the second quarter. To be fair, this was better than 0.6 percent rate observed in the first estimate.
Moving forward, manufacturers are mostly upbeat, and I estimate real GDP growth of 2.8 percent for the current quarter and 3.0 for the second half of this year. Still, a number of risks abound, and business leaders and consumers remain cautious. Regarding trade, policymakers should do what they can to increase sales opportunities abroad, including reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and pursuing new trade agreements. The need to pursue other growth policies extends to other areas as well, as this year has taught us that even an optimistic recovery can still be fragile.
Chad Moutray is the chief economist, National Association of Manufacturers.