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U.S. Grew Faster Than First Estimated in Second Quarter

Economy in U.S. Grew More in Second Quarter Than First Estimated
Cranes load Schnitzer Steel at the Port of of Oakland in California, on Aug. 23, 2012. Photographer: Ken James/Bloomberg

The economy expanded more than previously estimated in the second quarter, reflecting gains in consumer spending and exports that are being threatened by costlier gasoline and a global slowdown.

Gross domestic product climbed at a 1.7 percent annual rate from April through June, up from an initial estimate of 1.5 percent and following a 2 percent gain in the first three months of the year, revised Commerce Department figures showed today in Washington. The weakest gain in business investment in new equipment in almost three years restrained the pace of growth, which was the slowest since the third quarter.

Consumers and companies may continue to curb spending in the second half of the year as rising fuel costs, unemployment and the prospect of tax changes and government budget cuts hurt confidence. Chairman Ben S. Bernanke this week may reaffirm the view of many Federal Reserve policy makers that more stimulus will be needed unless the expansion shows signs of strengthening.

“We are very much struck in a slow-growth mode,” said Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina, who correctly forecast the revision. “We still don’t see the economy breaking free of this 1.5 percent to 2 percent growth rate. A 1.7 percent pace is the personification of the Fed’s frustration.”

Another report showed Americans signed more contracts to purchase previously owned homes in July, a sign housing will keep strengthening in the second half.

Contract Signings

The index of pending home resales climbed 2.4 percent, exceeding the 1 percent gain median forecast of 39 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, figures from the National Association of Realtors showed. The gauge rose to 101.7, the highest since April 2010.

Stocks climbed, halting a two-day drop, as investors awaited Bernanke’s speech in two days. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 0.1 percent to 1,410.49 at the close in New York. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note climbed to 1.65 percent from 1.63 percent late yesterday.

Second-quarter growth forecasts from the 80 economists surveyed by Bloomberg ranged from 1.2 percent to 2.2 percent. The economy expanded 4.1 percent in the fourth quarter.

Economies around the world are cooling, other data showed today. French industrial confidence in August held near its lowest level in two years, increasing pressure on President Francois Hollande’s government to revive growth in the face of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.

Chinese Economy

In China, retailers from clothing stores to computer outlets are reporting weaker sales growth, undermining Premier Wen Jiabao’s goal of relying more on consumer spending for expansion as the economy slows.

U.S. consumer purchases, about 70 percent of the economy, climbed at a 1.7 percent annual rate, the weakest in a year and revised from a 1.5 percent initial estimate. The revision reflected the biggest gain in outlays on services since the fourth quarter of 2006. The largest contributor came from electricity and gas as temperatures across the country approached record highs.

Higher gasoline prices may further restrain households. The average cost of a gallon climbed to $3.80 yesterday, up 47 cents from the year’s low on July 1, according to AAA, the nation’s largest motoring organization.

Disposable income adjusted for inflation rose 3.1 percent from April through June after a 3.7 percent gain in the first quarter. The saving rate in that period climbed to 4 percent from 3.6 percent in January through March.

Wages, Salaries

Wages and salaries from April through June rose by $56.1 billion after a revised $133.5 billion first-quarter gain that was bigger than the previous estimate of $123.3 billion.

The U.S. economy is “not rip-roaring, but it’s certainly not on its heels,” Dave Barger, president and chief executive officer of JetBlue Airways Corp., told Bloomberg on Aug. 20. “We’re nowhere close to a recession,” he said.

Today’s report showed international trade held up, indicating weaker global economies had yet to slow demand for goods produced in the U.S. Net exports, which initially subtracted from second-quarter growth, contributed 0.32 percentage point to GDP.

On the business side, today’s report offered a first look at corporate profits. Before-tax earnings rose 0.5 percent, after falling 2.7 percent in the prior period. They climbed 6.1 percent from the same time last year.

Business Investment

Investment by businesses slowed last quarter. Corporate spending on equipment and software rose at a 4.7 percent pace, the weakest since the third quarter of 2009. The second-quarter pace was less than the previously estimated 7.2 percent rate and compared with a 5.4 percent increase in the previous quarter.

A smaller gain in inventories subtracted 0.2 percentage point from growth last quarter, rather than contributing 0.3 percentage point as previously reported.

Stronger economic growth may prove difficult without faster employment gains at the same time gasoline prices rise and uncertainty over fiscal policy restrains business investment.

Payroll increases averaged 73,000 in the second quarter, down from 226,000 in the prior three months. While the pace of hiring picked up in July, the unemployment rate rose to 8.3 percent and has exceeded 8 percent for 42 straight months.

Fed Chairman Bernanke may use this week’s speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to reaffirm the central bank’s assessment of the expansion. Policy makers have said they are prepared to provide new stimulus “fairly soon” unless they’re convinced the economy is poised to rebound, according to the minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s July 31-Aug. 1 meeting released last week.

Fed’s Bernanke

Bernanke sees “scope for further action,” he wrote in an Aug. 22 letter to California Republican Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Inflation is still near the central bank’s goal of 2 percent. Today’s report showed a measure of prices excluding food and energy costs tied to consumer spending climbed at a 1.8 percent annual pace in the second quarter.

At the same time, monetary authorities won’t be able to avert the blows to growth the economy could receive at the start of next year from changes in fiscal policy. More than $600 billion in higher taxes and reductions in defense and other government programs next year, dubbed the fiscal cliff, will occur automatically without action by U.S. lawmakers.

Gross domestic income in the second quarter was also released today for the first time. The measure, which shows the money earned by the people, businesses and government agencies whose purchases go into calculating growth, rose at a 0.6 percent annual rate from April through June after a 3.8 percent gain. GDI may be a better gauge of the economy, according to Fed research.

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