The United States economy experienced its strongest growth in nearly four decades in 2021 as a result of the government’s trillion-dollar COVID-19 relief effort. The economy is expected to continue to grow despite headwinds from the pandemic, strained supply chains, and rising inflation in the coming years.
The final push came in the form of a surge in the gross domestic product in the fourth quarter, as businesses replenished depleted inventories in order to meet strong demand for goods.
The robust growth experienced last year, as reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday, lends support to the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates in March.
“The economy no longer necessitates sustained high levels of monetary policy support,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday following the conclusion of a two-day policy meeting, adding that “it will soon be appropriate to raise” interest rates.
The latest pandemic wave and supply-chain glitches are expected to alleviate the effects of omicron in the first quarter, according to Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. “While omicron will lead to weaker growth in the first quarter, activity is expected to rebound nicely,” said Guatieri.
It will be necessary for the Federal Reserve to be ‘humble and nimble’ as it navigates the underlying economic strength, worsening labor shortages, and persistently high inflation.
The economy expanded by 5.7 percent in 2021, the fastest rate of growth since 1984, thanks to nearly $6 trillion in pandemic relief provided by the government. In 2020, it is expected to contract by 3.4 percent, the largest decrease in 74 years.
President Joe Biden immediately congratulated the team on their outstanding performance, which he claimed was “no accident.”
Biden’s popularity is eroding amid a stalled domestic economic agenda, which has been exacerbated by the failure of Congress to pass his signature $1.75 trillion Make America Great Again legislation.
According to President Joe Biden, “we are finally building an American economy for the twenty-first century, and I urge Congress to continue this momentum by passing legislation to make America more competitive,” bolster supply chains, strengthen manufacturing and innovation, invest in families and clean energy, and lower kitchen table costs, among other things.
GDP increased at an annualized rate of 6.9 percent in the fourth quarter, according to the government’s preliminary GDP estimate for the period ended December. This came on the heels of a 2.3 percent growth rate in the third quarter.
Growth is 3.1 percent higher than it was prior to the pandemic.
An economist survey conducted by Reuters forecast GDP growth to increase at a rate of 5.5 percent.
The momentum, on the other hand, began to wane by December as a result of an onslaught of COVID-19 infections, fueled by the omicron variant, which contributed to a reduction in spending as well as the disruption of activity at factories and service businesses.
However, there are signs that the number of infections has peaked, which could result in an increase in demand for services by the spring.
In the third quarter of 2020, inventory investment increased at a rate of $173.5 billion, contributing 4.90 percentage points to GDP growth, the highest contribution since the third quarter of 2000. Beginning in the first quarter of 2021, businesses have been reducing their inventory levels.
During the pandemic, spending shifted away from services and toward goods, resulting in a demand boom that put pressure on supply chains. GDP increased at a moderate 1.9 percent annual rate, excluding inventories.
Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher at the time of writing. When compared to a basket of currencies, the dollar gained ground. Treasury yields in the United States fell.
A delicate balancing act
Some economists interpreted the modest increase in so-called final sales as a sign that the economy was on the verge of experiencing a significant slowdown, particularly if not all of the inventory accumulation had been planned.
They were also concerned that rate hikes and reduced government assistance, particularly the elimination of the childcare tax credit, would negatively impact demand.
Inventory-to-sales ratios have remained low in comparison to historical norms so far.
According to Christopher Rupkey, chief economist at FWDBONDS in New York, “Fed policymakers will have to be extremely careful when it comes to threading the needle when they raise interest rates because every other Federal Reserve in history has raised interest rates too high and brought the economy crashing back down.”
Consumer spending increased significantly in October, which helped to boost growth in the third quarter before declining significantly as omicron wreaked havoc.
Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of total economic activity, increased at a rate of 3.3 percent in the fourth quarter after increasing at a rate of 2.0 percent in the previous three months.
A decrease in the purchase of motor vehicles, which are in short supply due to a global chip shortage, was partially offset by increases in spending on healthcare, as well as on membership clubs, sports centers, parks, theaters, and museums (all of which are in short supply due to the chip shortage).
Inflation increased at a rate of 6.9 percent, the fastest since the second quarter of 1981 and significantly higher than the Federal Reserve’s target of 2 percent. Consumer spending has also been restricted as a result of the 5.8 percent decline in income available to households.
Despite this, households continued to be cushioned by substantial savings, which totaled $1.34 trillion. Inflation-adjusted wages increased at an 8.9 percent rate in November, reflecting a labor market that is experiencing a severe shortage of workers, with 10.6 million job openings at the end of the month.
The labor market is at or near maximum employment, despite the fact that it retreated in early January as omicron surged in price. A separate report released on Thursday by the Labor Department showed that initial claims for unemployment benefits fell by 30,000 to a seasonally adjusted total of 260,000 during the week ended January 22.
In Illinois, Kentucky, Texas, New Jersey, and New York, as well as Pennsylvania, there was a significant decrease in the number of claims.
In addition, a rebound in business spending on equipment contributed to GDP growth in the most recent quarter. Government spending, on the other hand, has decreased at all levels of government, including the federal, state, and local.
In the third quarter, trade made no contribution to GDP growth after being a drag on growth for five consecutive quarters, and investment in homebuilding fell for the third quarter in a row.
Building materials are prohibitively expensive, which has resulted in a record backlog of homes that have yet to be constructed in the sector.
Although the economy has struggled at the start of the year, most economists believe the recent string of good fortunes will continue in the coming months. This year’s growth is expected to be in excess of 4%.
In the words of Scott Hoyt, a senior economist at Moody’s Analytics, based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, “this year may very well be an even better year for the economy.” “The economy will slow, and monthly job gains will fall short of the high levels seen last year.
Nonetheless, the economy should be close to full employment and inflation close to the Federal Reserve’s target by the end of the year.”