The U.S. economy probably expanded in the second quarter at the slowest pace in a year as higher fuel costs crimped consumer spending and supply disruptions limited production, economists said before a report this week.
Gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced in the nation, rose at a 1.8 percent annual pace after a 1.9 percent gain in the previous three months, according to the median forecast of 69 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before the Commerce Department’s July 29 report. Home sales languished and consumer confidence dimmed, other data may show.
Americans’ purchases last quarter grew at the weakest pace since the recession ended in 2009, reflecting limited job growth that may keep holding back the world’s largest economy. That is among reasons Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said this month that the Federal Reserve needs to keep all policy options open.
“The soft patch has hung around a little longer than expected,” said Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics Inc. in West Chester, Pennsylvania. “A lot of the slowdown can be blamed on temporary factors, but not all of it. Consumers faced several headwinds, which caused them to ratchet down their spending.”
The GDP estimate is the first of three for the quarter, with the other releases scheduled for August and September when more information becomes available.
Consumer purchases, which account for about 70 percent of the economy, rose at a 0.8 percent annual pace from April through June, the slowest since the same three months in 2009, following a 2.2 percent gain, according to the survey median.
“There’s probably more uncertainty right now in many people’s minds about the economy,” Jim Young, chief executive officer of Omaha, Nebraska-based Union Pacific Corp., said in an interview on July 21.
One area of weakness was auto purchases. Cars and light trucks sold at an average 12.1 annual rate in the quarter, down from a 13 million pace in the first three months of the year, according to industry data.
Higher expenses for necessities like food and energy may have curtailed spending on less essential items. The cost of a gallon of regular gasoline climbed in May to about $4 a gallon, the highest in almost three years, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest auto group.
The absence of faster job growth is also discouraging shoppers. The unemployment rate climbed to 9.2 percent in June while payrolls grew by 18,000, the smallest gain in nine months, Labor Department figures showed on July 8.
A July 29 report may show the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment fell in July to the lowest level since March 2009, when the economy was still in a recession, economists predicted. A similar measure from the New York-based Conference Board dropped this month to the lowest level since October, according to economists surveyed.
The pessimism is consistent with the dim outlook for employment at the start of this quarter. San Jose, California- based Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), the world’s largest networking- equipment maker, on July 18 said it plans to cut about 6,500 jobs worldwide. Also last week, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) announced it will reduce about 1,000 jobs, and Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) said it’ll offer a voluntary separation plan to 6,500 employees.
“Recent economic data are clear -- the U.S. economy is still struggling to emerge from the Great Recession and unable to move to a path of vibrant and sustainable growth,” Dan DiMicco, chairman and chief executive officer at steelmaker Nucor Corp. (NUE), said on a July 21 teleconference with analysts.
A shortage of Japanese-made parts after the earthquake and tsunami in March also caused supply disruptions for U.S. companies, restraining production. In addition, the government’s inability to agree on a budget and debt-limit increase may also be making companies reluctant to order new equipment and hire.
Demand for durable goods in June increased 0.3 percent, after a 2.1 percent gain, economists forecast Commerce Department figures will show on July 27.
Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), the world’s largest construction and mining-equipment maker, posted lower-than-expected profit for the first time in 10 quarters after the Japanese earthquake reduced sales, demand slowed in China and manufacturing costs rose.
Shares of manufacturers have trailed the broader market since the beginning of the year. The Standard & Poor’s Supercomposite Machinery Index has risen 4.9 percent this year, while the broader S&P gauge is up 6.9 percent.
Housing remains the economy’s weak link as foreclosures mount. The Commerce Department may report on July 26 that sales of new homes ran at a 322,000 annual pace in June, little changed from 319,000 a month earlier, according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.
“In the very near term, the recovery is rather fragile,” Fed Chairman Bernanke told lawmakers on July 14. “We just want to make sure that we have the options when they become necessary” to stimulate the economy.