U.S. Q2 GDP growth raised to 4.2%; consumer spending cut

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WASHINGTON (Aug 29): U.S. economic growth was a bit stronger than initially thought in the second quarter, notching its best performance in nearly four years and putting the economy on track to hit the Trump administration's goal of 3% annual growth.

Gross domestic product increased at a 4.2% annualized rate, the Commerce Department said on Wednesday in its second estimate of GDP growth for the April-June quarter. That was slightly up from the 4.1% pace of expansion reported in July and was the fastest rate since the third quarter of 2014.

The slight upward revision to growth last quarter reflected more business spending on software than previously estimated and less imports of petroleum. Stronger software spending and a smaller import bill offset a downward revision to consumer spending.

Compared to the second quarter of 2017, the economy grew 2.9% instead of the previously reported 2.8%. Output expanded 3.2% in the first half of 2018, rather than the 3.1% estimated last month. The Trump administration has set a target of 3% annual growth, which economists say is unsustainable because of structural constraints.

Robust growth in the second quarter was driven by one-off factors such as a US$1.5 trillion tax cut package, which provided a jolt to consumer spending after a lackluster first quarter, and a front-loading of soybean exports to China to beat retaliatory trade tariffs.

There are signs some of the momentum was lost early in the third quarter. The government reported on Tuesday that the goods trade deficit jumped 6.3% to US$72.2 billion in July, as a 6.7% plunge in food shipments weighed on exports.

While consumer spending has remained strong early in the third quarter, the housing market has weakened further with homebuilding rising less than expected in July and sales of new and previously-owned homes declining.

The Trump administration's "America First" policies, which have led to an escalation of a trade war between the United States and China, as well as tit-for-tat tariffs with the European Union, Canada and Mexico, pose a risk to the economy.

Economists had expected second-quarter GDP growth to be revised down to a 4.0% pace. The economy grew at a 2.2% rate in the January-March period.

The U.S. dollar held near a session high against a basket of currencies, after the data. U.S. stock index futures were largely flat, while prices of longer-dated U.S. Treasuries were slightly higher.

Income growth slows

An alternative measure of economic growth, gross domestic income (GDI), increased at a rate of 1.8% in the second quarter, slowing from the first quarter's brisk 3.9% pace.

The average of GDP and GDI, also referred to as gross domestic output and considered a better measure of economic activity, increased at a 3.0% rate in the April-June period. That followed a 3.1% growth pace in the first quarter.

The income side of the growth ledger was restrained by after-tax corporate profits, which grew at an 2.4% rate last quarter, decelerating from the 8.2% pace logged in the first quarter.

Growth in consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity, was lowered to a 3.8% rate in the second quarter, instead of the previously-reported 4.0% pace. Consumer spending increased at a 0.5% pace in the first quarter.

Soybean exports were accelerated in the second quarter to beat Chinese tariffs that took effect in July. Overall exports rose at a 9.1% rate in the second quarter, instead of the previously estimated 9.3% pace.

Imports declined at a 0.4% rate, with petroleum accounting for much of the drop. The decrease in imports was the biggest since the fourth quarter of 2015. Imports were previously reported to have grown at a 0.5% pace in the second quarter.

The drop in imports sharply narrowed the trade deficit. Trade added 1.17 percentage points to GDP growth in the second quarter, rather than the previously reported 1.06 percentage points.

The front-loading of soybean exports, however, depleted farm inventories. Overall, inventories declined at a rate of US$26.9 billion, instead of the US$27.9 billion pace reported last month.

Inventories subtracted 0.97 percentage point from GDP growth in the second quarter, instead of the previously estimated 1.0%.