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US Q4 GDP growth raised to 1.4%; profits tumble
[WASHINGTON] US economic growth slowed in the fourth quarter, but not as sharply as previously estimated, with fairly strong consumer spending offsetting the drag from efforts by businesses to reduce an inventory overhang.
Gross domestic product increased at a 1.4 per cent annual rate instead of the previously reported 1.0 per cent pace, the Commerce Department said on Friday in its third GDP estimate.
GDP growth was initially estimated to have risen at only a 0.7 per cent rate. The economy grew at a rate of 2.0 per cent in the third quarter and expanded 2.4 per cent for all of 2015.
Economists polled by Reuters had expected that fourth-quarter GDP growth would be unrevised at a 1.0 per cent rate.
The upward revisions reflected a stronger pace of consumer spending than previously estimated.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two thirds of US economic activity, rose at a 2.4 per cent pace rather than the 2.0 per cent rate reported last month. That reflected more consumption of services than previously estimated.
The fairly solid pace of consumer spending underscores the economy's underlying strength and should further allay fears of a recession, which triggered a massive stock market sell-off early this year.
Spending is being supported by a tightening labor market, which is steadily lifting wages, and rising house prices. Gasoline prices around $2 per gallon are also helping to underpin household discretionary spending.
Inventory investment was revised lower. Still, inventories remain high relative to domestic demand.
Businesses accumulated US$78.3 billion worth of inventory rather than the US$81.7 billion reported last month. As a result, inventories subtracted 0.22 percentage point from GDP growth instead of the previously reported 0.14 percentage point.
First-quarter GDP growth estimates are around a 1.5 per cent rate. But with the inventory pile still large and shipments of capital goods ordered by businesses weak in January and February, the risks to growth are tilted to the downside.
There was some bad news in the GDP report, with corporate profits falling for a second straight quarter as a strong dollar and cheap oil undercut the earnings of multi-national companies.
Profits after tax with inventory valuation and capital consumption adjustments declined at an annual rate of 8.4 per cent, the biggest drop since the first quarter of 2014, after dropping at a 1.7 per cent pace in the third quarter.
Profits from current production fell US$159.6 billion after decreasing US$33.0 billion in the third quarter.
For all of 2015 profits dropped 5.1 per cent, the largest drop since 2008, after slipping 0.6 per cent in 2014.
Part of the drop in profits in the fourth quarter was due to a US$20.8 billion transfer payment related to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which was the largest US offshore oil spill.
Profits from the rest of the world decreased $6.5 billion in the final three months of 2015 after sliding US$23.1 billion in the third quarter.
Manufacturing profits declined US$139.2 billion during the last quarter after decreasing by US$4.1 billion in the July-September period. Profits in the petroleum and coal products sector tumbled US$124.3 billion after rising US$7.0 billion in the third quarter.
The dollar gained 10.5 per cent last year versus the currencies of the United States' main trading partners, putting a squeeze on the profits of multinationals such as Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive.
A more than 60 per cent plunge in crude oil prices from highs above US$100 a barrel in June 2014 has also hurt the profits of oilfield service firms like Schlumberger and Halliburton .
But with the dollar's appreciation slowing since the start of the year and the oil price slide ebbing, corporate profits are poised to rise, helping to underpin job growth.