U.S. GDP grew at a 4.9% annual pace in the third quarter, better than expected

The U.S. economy grew even faster than expected in the third quarter, buoyed by a strong consumer in spite of higher interest rates, ongoing inflation pressures and a variety of other domestic and global headwinds.

Gross domestic product, a measure of all goods and services produced in the U.S., rose at a 4.9% annualized pace in the July-through-September period, up from an unrevised 2.1% pace in the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been looking for a 4.7% acceleration.

The sharp increase came due to contributions from consumer spending, increased inventories, exports, residential investment and government spending.

Consumer spending, as measured by personal consumption expenditures, increased 4% for the quarter after rising just 0.8% in Q2. Gross private domestic investment surged 8.4% and government spending and investment jumped 4.6%.

Spending at the consumer level split fairly evenly between goods and services, with the two measures up 4.8% and 3.6% respectively.

Markets reacted little to the news, with stock market futures negative heading into the open and Treasury yields mostly lower.

The increase marked the biggest gain since the fourth quarter of 2021.

At a time when many economists had thought the U.S. would be in the midst of at least a shallow recession, growth has kept pace due to consumer spending that has exceeded all expectations. The consumer was responsible for about 68% of GDP in Q3.

Even with Covid-era government transfer payments running out, spending has been strong as households draw down savings and ramp up credit card balances.

The gains also come despite the Federal Reserve not only raising rates at the fastest clip since the early 1980s but also vowing to keep rates high until inflation comes back to acceptable levels. Price increases have been running well ahead of the central bank’s 2% annual target, though the rate of inflation at least has ebbed in recent months.

Along with rates and inflation, consumers have been dealing with a variety of other issues.

The resumption of student loan payments is expected to take a bite out of household budgets, while elevated gas prices and a wobbly stock market are hitting confidence levels. Geopolitical tensions also pose potential headaches, with fighting between Israel and Hamas and the war in Ukraine posing substantial uncertainties about the future.

While the U.S. has proven resilient to the various challenges, most economists expect growth to slow considerably in the coming months. However, they generally think the U.S. can skirt a recession absent any other unforeseen shocks.

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