The economy last quarter posted its worst annualized showing since the pandemic-induced recession in 2020, the government said in an updated release Wednesday, blaming an unexpected decline in economic activity on the omicron variant of Covid-19 and decreased government assistance.
The U.S. economy shrank at an annual rate of 1.6% in the first quarter of 2022—the first decline since the second quarter of 2020, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported Wednesday in a worse-than-expected update to last month's figure, which showed a decline of 1.5%.
The update primarily reflected softer-than-expected spending on business inventories and residential investments, which was only partially offset by an uptick in consumer spending, the government said.
In the first quarter, a record wave of Covid-19 cases spurred by the omicron variant resulted in continued restrictions and business disruptions, while government assistance programs including forgivable loans to businesses and social benefits to households expired or tapered off—further preventing growth, according to the release.
Broad declines in exports, government spending and business inventories, along with increased imports, spurred the overall decline, the government said.
The overall drop stands in stark contrast to the economy's better-than-expected growth of 6.9% in the fourth quarter, the fastest rate in nearly 40 years, thanks in part to a jump in exports and increased inventory investments by car dealers.
What To Watch For
Economists are widely calling for a return to growth this quarter, thereby avoiding the two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth that constitute a technical recession, but a growing wave of experts have warned odds of a recession next year are growing. In a research note on Monday, analysts at S&P Global Ratings said aggressive Federal Reserve policy to combat ongoing price spikes will usher in low economic growth this year and potentially risk a recession, warning: "What's around the bend next year is the bigger worry." S&P put the odds of a recession in 2023 at 40%—more than the 35% odds Morgan Stanley issued last week.
Though the economy quickly bounced back after the Covid recession in 2020, the Fed's withdrawal of pandemic stimulus measures, Russia's invasion of Ukraine and lingering Covid restrictions have heightened market uncertainty this year. Last quarter, the stock market posted its worst showing since the market crash in early 2020, with the S&P falling 5% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq 9%. "Recession risks are high—uncomfortably high—and rising," Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, said in a recent note. "For the economy to navigate through without suffering a downturn, we need some very deft policymaking from the Fed and a bit of luck."
In an email after April's initial report, which estimated a 1.4% decline despite expectations for 1% growth, Bankrate analyst Mark Hamrick said the lackluster performance serves as a reminder of the "volatile and complicated times in which we live," but that the contraction is "less worrisome" because key drivers of economic growth, such as consumer and business spending, have been holding up despite the widening trade deficit and big swings in business inventories.
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