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US economy cools in fourth quarter, falling below Trump goal

The world's largest economy slowed in the final quarter of 2017, bringing US GDP expansion for the year below President Donald Trump's ambitious three per cent target, according to data released Friday.

[WASHINGTON] The world's largest economy slowed in the final quarter of 2017, bringing US GDP expansion for the year below President Donald Trump's ambitious three per cent target, according to data released Friday.

The slowdown underscored the difficulty the administration faces in making good on an emblematic pledge.

The White House believes the massive tax cuts passed last month will energise the economy and offset the US$1.5 trillion cost of the tax overhaul, but economists say this is not likely and any growth bump will be modest.

After two quarters of expansion above three per cent, GDP slowed to 2.6 per cent in the October-December period, held down by a big jump in imports and falling business inventories, according to the first growth estimate from the Commerce Department.

That was slower than analysts forecast and meant growth for the year was 2.3 per cent, better than the 1.5 per cent gain in 2016 but well below 2015's 2.9 per cent. But the result is subject to revision as more data become available.

Analysts highlighted the positive signs within the report, including strong spending and investment, but cautioned that growth in the first quarter of this year could be below trend, as in recent years.

"In short, growth was a bit less than generally expected, disappointing hopes for a third consecutive three per cent-or-better quarter for the first time since 2005, but the details were stronger than the headline figure," Jim O'Sullivan of High Frequency Economics said in a research note.

Mr Trump rose to power a year ago on a nationalist economic agenda, seeking to energise growth to three percent or even four percent by revitalising manufacturing and attacking bilateral trade deficits while slashing taxes and regulation and limiting immigration.

Making the case in Davos

Making the case for his America First vision at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Friday, Mr Trump said praised "the resurgence of a strong and prosperous America.

"America is open for business, and we are competitive once again," he said.

The GDP data showed growth in the fourth quarter was bolstered by consumer spending, home buying, and business investments.

Exports also had a good quarter as the US dollar continued to weaken, gaining 12.6 per cent compared to the prior quarter, the largest jump in four years.

But imports, which subtract from GDP, rose an even faster 13.9 per cent, the largest quarterly increase in more than seven years.

Durable goods orders were another bright spot for the quarter, with sales of large, factory-made items rising by 8.2 per cent, the biggest quarterly gain in 14 years.

"Given the strongest business confidence in decades and expectations of still stronger tax-cut fuelled growth to come, companies are almost certain to kick production up a notch in 2018," Chris Low of FTN Financial said in a client note.

In a separate report Friday, the Commerce Department said orders for civilian and military aircraft lifted durable goods sales in December for the second straight month while auto sales slowed.

Total orders for big-ticket US-manufactured goods rose 2.9 per cent compared to November to US$249.4 billion, the biggest jump in six months, leaping past economists' predictions of a 0.9 per cent gain.

That left sales of durable goods up 5.8 per cent over 2016.

Military plane sales rose 55.3 per cent over November while civilian aircraft orders also gained, with a 15.9 per cent increase.

But autos gained only 0.4 per cent - giving back some of November's post-hurricane bounce, when sales rose two percent as car owners replaced damaged vehicles.

Excluding the volatile transportation sector, durable goods sales were less pronounced, rising only 0.6 per cent for the month.


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