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US fourth-quarter growth revised up to 1.0%

[WASHINGTON] US economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, but not as sharply as initially thought, with businesses less aggressive in their efforts to reduce unwanted inventory, which could hurt output in the first three months of 2016.

Gross domestic product increased at a 1.0 per cent annual rate instead of the previously reported 0.7 per cent pace, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its second GDP estimate.

Economists polled by Reuters had expected that fourth-quarter GDP growth would be revised down to a 0.4 per cent pace. The economy grew at a rate of 2.0 per cent in the third quarter.

Businesses accumulated US$81.7 billion worth of inventory rather than the US$68.6 billion reported last month. That reflected an upward revision to inventory valuation adjustment.

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The largest contributors to the upward revision to inventory investment were retail trade and mining, utilities and construction. As a result, inventories subtracted only 0.14 percentage point from GDP growth instead of the previously reported 0.45 percentage point.

The bigger inventory build is bad news for first-quarter GDP growth as it means businesses will have little incentive to place new orders, which will continue to hold down production.

First-quarter GDP growth estimates are as high as a 2.5 per cent rate, but the risks are tilted to the downside amid slowing world economies, a strong dollar and a recent global stock market sell-off that has tightened financial market conditions.

Cheap oil has also been a drag on the profits of oil field companies such as Schlumberger and Halliburton, prompting them to slash capital expenditure budgets.

The upward revision to fourth-quarter GDP growth also reflected a smaller trade deficit than initially thought as imports contracted. The trade deficit subtracted 0.25 percentage point from GDP growth instead of the 0.47 percentage point reported last month.

Business spending on equipment contracted at a less steep 1.8 per cent rate last quarter, compared to the previously reported 2.5 per cent rate.

There were minor downward revisions to consumer spending, which accounts for more than two thirds of US economic activity. Consumer spending rose at a 2.0 per cent pace rather than the 2.2 per cent rate reported last month.

Unusually mild weather hurt sales of winter apparel in December and undermined demand for heating through the quarter. But there are signs consumption picked up in January with the return to more normal winter temperatures.

With gasoline prices around $2 per gallon, a tightening labour market gradually lifting wages and house prices boosting household wealth, the fundamentals for consumer spending remain very strong.

Business spending on nonresidential structures contracted at a 6.6 per cent rate rather than the 5.3 per cent pace the government reported last month. Government spending contracted at a 0.1 per cent rate instead of rising at a 0.7 per cent rate.

REUTERS

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