WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy slowed drastically in the first three months of the year as a harsh winter exacted a toll on business activity. The slowdown, while worse than expected, is likely to be temporary as growth rebounds with warmer weather.
Growth slowed to a barely discernible 0.1 percent annual rate in the January-March quarter, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That was the weakest pace since the end of 2012 and was down from a 2.6 percent rate in the previous quarter.
Many economists said the government's first estimate of growth in the January-March quarter was skewed by weak figures early in the quarter. They noted that several sectors — from retail sales to manufacturing output — rebounded in March. That strength should provide momentum for the rest of the year.
And on Friday, economists expect the government to report a solid 200,000-plus job gain for April.
"While quarter one was weak, many measures of sentiment and output improved in March and April, suggesting that the quarter ended better than it began," said Dan Greenhaus, chief investment strategist at global financial services firm BTIG.
Still, the anemic growth last quarter is surely a topic for discussion at the Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting, which ends Wednesday afternoon. No major changes are expected in a statement the Fed will release. But it will likely announce a fourth reduction in its monthly bond purchases because of the gains the economy has been making. The Fed's bond purchases have been intended to keep long-term loan rates low.
In its report Wednesday, the government said consumer spending grew at a 3 percent annual rate last quarter. But that gain was dominated by a 4.4 percent rise in spending on services, reflecting higher utility bills. Spending on goods barely rose. Also dampening growth were a drop in business investment, a rise in the trade deficit and a fall in housing construction.