GDP grew at a 2.4% pace in the second quarter, topping expectations despite recession calls

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The U.S. economy showed few signs of recession in the second quarter, as gross domestic product grew at a faster-than-expected pace during the period, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

GDP, the sum of all goods and services activity, increased at a 2.4% annualized rate for the April-through-June period, better than the 2% consensus estimate from Dow Jones. GDP rose at a 2% pace in the first quarter.

Markets moved higher after the report, with stocks poised for a positive open and Treasury yields on the rise.

Consumer spending powered the solid quarter, aided by increases in nonresidential fixed investment, government spending and inventory growth.

Perhaps as important, inflation was held in check through the period. The personal consumption expenditures price index increased 2.6%, down from a 4.1% rise in the first quarter and well below the Dow Jones estimate for a gain of 3.2%.

Consumer spending, as gauged by the department’s personal consumption expenditures index, increased 1.6% and accounted for 68% of all economic activity during the quarter. That did market a pullback from the 4.2% increase in the first quarter but still showed resiliency amid higher interest rates and persistent inflation.

In the face of persistent calls for a recession, the economy showed surprising resilience despite a series of Federal Reserve interest rate increases that most Wall Street economists and even those at the central bank expect to cause a contraction.

“It’s great to have another quarter of positive GDP growth in tandem with a consistently slowing inflation rate,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at TruStage. “After yesterday’s resumption of interest rate hikes, it’s encouraging to see the aggressive hike cycle working as inflation continues to decline. Consumers are getting a reprieve from the rising costs of core goods, and the U.S. economy is off to a stronger start to the first half of the year.”

Growth hasn’t posted a negative reading since the second quarter of 2022, when GDP fell at a 0.6% rate. That was the second straight quarter of negative growth, meeting the technical definition of a recession. However, the National Bureau of Economic Research is the official arbiter of expansion and contractions, and few expect it to call the period a recession.

Thursday’s report indicated widespread growth.

Gross private domestic investment increased by 5.7% after tumbling 11.9% in the first quarter. A 10.8% surge in equipment and a 9.7% increase in structures helped power that gain.

Government spending increased 2.6%, including a 2.5% jump in defense expenditures and 3.6% growth at the state and local levels.

Separate reports Thursday brought more positive economic news.

Durable goods orders for items such as vehicles, computers and appliances rose 4.7% in June, much higher than the 1.5% estimate, according to the Commerce Department. Also, weekly jobless claims totaled 221,000, a decline of 7,000 and below the 235,000 estimate.

Powerful employment gains and a resilient consumer are at the heart of the growing economy.

Nonfarm payrolls have grown by nearly 1.7 million so far in 2023 and the 3.6% unemployment rate for June is the same as it was a year ago. Consumers, meanwhile, continue to spend, and sentiment gauges have been rising in recent months. For instance, the closely watched University of Michigan sentiment survey hit a nearly two-year high in July.

Economists have expected the Fed rate increases to lead to a credit contraction that ultimately takes the air out of the growth spurt over the past year. The Fed has hiked 11 times since March 2022, the most recent coming Wednesday with a quarter-point increase that took the central bank’s key borrowing rate to its highest level in more than 22 years.

Markets are betting that Wednesday’s hike will be the last of this tightening cycle, though officials such as Chairman Jerome Powell say no decision has been made on the future policy path.

Housing has been a particular soft spot after surging early in the Covid pandemic. Prices, though, are showing signs of rebounding even as the real estate market is burdened by a lack of supply.

Following the Wednesday rate increase, the Fed characterized growth as “moderate,” a slight boost from the characterization of “modest” in June.

Still, signs of trouble persist.

Markets have been betting on a recession, pushing the 2-year Treasury yield well above that for the 10-year note. That phenomenon, called an inverted yield curve, has a near-perfect record for indicating a recession in the next 12 months.

Similarly, the inversion of the 3-month and 10-year curve is pointing to a 67% chance of contraction as of the end of June, according to a New York Fed gauge.