BUSINESS + ECONOMY

The US economy expanded 4.9% in the third quarter, slightly weaker than previously estimated

Dec 21, 2023, 8:30 AM

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A shopper carries bags at the Polaris Fashion Place mall on Black Friday in Columbus, Ohio, US, on Friday, Nov. 24. (Matthew Hatcher/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

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Washington, DC (CNN) — US economic growth was slightly lower in the third quarter than previously reported, but still robust, underscoring the sheer strength of America’s economy during the summer.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic output, expanded at an annualized 4.9% rate from July through September, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. That’s a slower pace of growth than the 5.2% reported in the second estimate.

Growth in the third quarter was the strongest in nearly two years as Americans spent on live concerts, films, and goods. The US economy has slowed from the red-hot pace set earlier in the year, but both hiring and spending remain solid.

The department’s final estimate factored in weaker consumer spending, inventory investment and exports, while revising government outlays and business investment higher. Consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of economic output, was revised down to 3.1% from 3.6%.

Investors are bullish that the Federal Reserve is poised to cut interest rates in just a few months, though officials have recently pushed back on that optimism. Some also believe the economy is in the midst of sticking a soft landing, a scenario in which inflation returns to the Fed’s 2% target without a sharp rise in unemployment.

Lower interest rates on the horizon

Rate cuts seem to be the talk of the town nowadays. The Fed’s latest set of economic projections released earlier this month showed that central bank officials have penciled in three rate cuts next year.

Investors and the Fed are relieved that inflation is easing again after briefly picking up earlier in 2023. The closely watched Consumer Price Index rose 3.1% in November from a year earlier, down from October’s 3.2%. The CPI jumped up to 3.7% in the summer due to rising energy costs, which have fallen sharply in recent weeks.

The Commerce Department releases November data on household spending, income and the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge Friday.

What’s not clear is when rate cuts will ultimately begin. That first cut could come in March, according to futures. But Fed officials have been trying to give excited markets a reality check.

“We aren’t really talking about rate cuts,” New York Fed President John Williams told CNBC recently.

Chicago Fed President Austan Goolsbee told CBS Sunday that inflation remains above target and that “it’s an overstatement to be counting the chickens.”

A local view: Utah economy healthy, growing stronger, says chief economist

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The US economy expanded 4.9% in the third quarter, slightly weaker than previously estimated