Captain Rick: Gross domestic product (GDP), the broadest measure of the nation’s economic health, grew at an annual rate of 3.1% from July to September (Q3). That’s more than double the sluggish 1.3% rate in the second quarter, however it only measures even with the break-even line. 3% economic growth, represented by the red line in the chart below, is necessary to provide enough jobs and wages to keep pace with U.S. population growth. America has fallen short of the line in all but three quarters during the past four years. A GDP growth rate of 5% for 4 quarters is required to reduce the unemployment rate by 1%.
Consumer spending, which typically accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy, was the single largest driver of economic growth between July and September. U.S. households bought more motor vehicles and health care services, leading consumer spending to rise at a 1.6% annual rate in the quarter.
Government defense spending was another large driver, rising 12.9% in the third quarter. And home sales picked up, also contributing to economic growth.
Meanwhile, businesses built up their stockpile of goods and were hesitant to make new investments. Business spending contracted at a 1.8% annual rate in the quarter, dragging on overall economic growth. The largest cuts in business spending were on equipment and software.
Economists point to uncertainty about 2013 taxes and government spending cuts as the culprit that’s weighing on business investment decisions. The uncertainty generated by fiscal ineptitude has basically shut down investment spending.
Economic Outlook: Overall, economic recovery remains sluggish. On average, the U.S. economy has grown about 2% a year for the last three years. Essentially this means the economy has actually going backwards at a rate of about 1%. Major portions of the fiscal cliff remain unresolved. The fiscal cliff and the pending debt ceiling will have to be addressed by about March 1 to prevent government default. The manner in which they are addressed will play a role in whether America dips into another recession next year.