GDP Is Down but the Economy Will Be Fine

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- There are two ways to look at the big downward revision in the government's estimate of fourth-quarter growth Friday, where the Commerce Department said gross domestic product rose at a 2.4% annual rate, instead of the 3.2% rate first estimated last month.

The funny version (apologies to the makers of the board game Clue): Who killed the recovery? The Republicans. In the House. With a budget axe.

The serious version: Nobody, really. The revisions still show solid growth that sets the stage for a better 2014, but with more short-term blips than we thought from the October government shutdown. The recovery is fine, if you know what to look for.

First, the basics. The economy grew 2.4%, as consumer spending rose at a 2.6% annual rate, much better than the 2% it posted in the third quarter. Investment rose 4.5%, well below the 17% rate of the third quarter; investment in commercial real estate nearly flatlined and residential investment dropped. Government spending at all levels fell at a 5.6% annual rate -- enough to shave 1.05 percentage points off the growth of the overall economy -- after making a small positive contribution to growth in the third quarter.

But this isn't as bad as it looks, for reasons I'll explain.

The private economy is now growing at a 3.5% annual rate, which is more than respectable. Growth in consumer spending accelerated, and consumer spending is 70% of the economy. The investment number, while not great, included a 10.6% annualized jump in equipment spending and an 8% rate of increase in spending on software and research and development.

That's Corporate America putting some of its giant cash pile to work as seed corn -- as it is supposed to do in a recovery just beginning to accelerate. This is what a gathering recovery looks like.

The two big fourth-quarter dips in the economy were lower spending on housing investment and government, according to the report. But new home sales beat expectations in January, posting the best performance since 2008.

The fundamentals of housing demand -- good affordability in most of the country and a stable-to-improving jobs outlook -- are still set up to continue last year's 19% growth in new home construction. The 8.7% annualized drop in residential investment that Commerce reported for the fourth quarter will prove to be a statistical blip.

By all accounts, the budget cuts coming through the system this calendar year are much smaller than those imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act -- the bill the Republicans procured by threatening not to raise the debt ceiling. Also, there is not going to be another government shutdown such as the one Standard & Poor's estimated in October would cost the economy $24 billion.

So the outlook is for the economy to keep doing more or less what the private sector has done for the last six months -- grow at 3% or better, with the smaller surtax on growth from continued government cuts making a smaller subtraction.

Or put it this way: The Republicans whacked the economy with an axe all right, but it didn't die after all. 

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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