economy

US economy slowed in third quarter on delta surge, supply crunch

US economy slowed in third quarter on delta surge, supply crunch

The US economy grew at the slowest pace of the recovery in the third quarter, but economists expect strong consumer demand and an easing pandemic to boost growth in the coming months despite lingering supply constraints. Gross domestic product grew by an annualized 2.0% from July to September, a marked slowdown from earlier this year. It was the weakest quarter of growth since the recovery began in mid-2020, the Commerce Department said Thursday. Growth was hit by two big factors: a surge in virus cases due to the highly contagious Delta variant of Covid-19 and deepening supply bottlenecks affecting goods from autos to food. Dynamics that helped GDP grow at a historically fast rate in the first half of this year—government stimulus, widespread business reopenings and rising vaccination rates—also faded. Consumers have the appetite to spend: spending on services last quarter grew at an annual rate of 7.9%. Limited availability of some products, particularly long-lasting goods such as vehicles, restrained overall spending, though. Consumer spending rose at an annual rate of 1.6% in the third quarter, a sharp slowdown from a 12% increase in the prior quarter. Supply-chain disruptions such as backups at U.S. ports and overseas manufacturing disruptions contributed to a sharp increase in inflation and pose a risk to the economic outlook. Still, economists are forecasting a reacceleration in growth as consumers spend lavishly this holiday season. Demand for labor is also strong despite a shortage of available workers, with employers avoiding layoffs and keeping unemployment claims at pandemic lows. “We had a temporary set of impediments coming from a resurgence of the coronavirus that should ease as we move through the quarters ahead, said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust. Consumers are venturing out more this fall. U.S. hotel occupancy was at 65% for the week ended Oct. 16, the highest level since mid-August, according to data from STR, a global hospitality data and analytics company. In the week ended Oct. 27, the number of diners seated at restaurants was down 5% from the same period in 2019—before the pandemic—a less severe decline than in mid-September, according to reservations site OpenTable. As the pandemic eased over the past month, business picked up at Tamale Addiction, said Adrian Paredes, co-owner of the company in the Austin, Texas, area. That marked a shift from over the summer, when the Delta variant caused the cancellation of several events where the vendor would normally sell its organic tamales. In early October at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, Tamale Addiction sold 18,000 tamales of various flavors including pork with tomatillo sauce, chicken with mole sauce, beans with goat cheese, and spinach with caramelized onions. Crowds flooded the event, Mr. Paredes said. “I saw people gathering with joy, he said. “It was a normal event. Mr. Paredes recently started receiving more requests for food trucks to serve workers who are back at the office. People are also ordering tamales for events such as Halloween parties. He expects sales to be stronger at the end of this year compared with last year. Shoppers are well-positioned to open their wallets this holiday season because of rising wages and savings amassed from several rounds of federal stimulus. Americans were saving at an annualized rate of $1.7 trillion in August, up from $1.4 trillion in February 2020, according to the Commerce Department. Still, supply constraints—including supply-chain disruptions and a shrunken workforce—might prove long-lasting and an impediment to economic growth in the months ahead. Several large companies in recent earnings discussions said supply issues could hamstring robust demand during the holiday season. Toy companies are racing to get all their products onto shelves before Christmas, when the industry typically logs about half of retail sales for the year. Large manufacturers such as Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. said they were able to overcome the supply-chain disruptions and get their products to retailers, albeit a bit later in some cases. United Parcel Service Inc. executives said Tuesday that strong economic growth around the globe is keeping demand for its shipping services high. That is allowing the company to raise prices and increase its business with more-profitable shippers such as small- and medium-size companies. UPS is keeping an eye on macroeconomic challenges, including inflation, inventory levels and labor shortages. “Despite these challenges, consumer demand is expected to be strong during peak season and in the fourth quarter, UPS Chief Financial Officer Brian Newman said. Manufacturers are seeing slower sales growth because of component shortages hampering the production of finished goods. General Motors Co. continues to be hit by computer-chip shortages, with vehicle shipments in North America down by nearly half in the July-to-September period compared with the previous year. GM CFO Paul Jacobson has said that chip-related constraints would be less severe in the fourth quarter, but that the company expects to face pressure from rising raw-material costs. Available warehouse space is shrinking near some of the country’s busiest distribution hubs as demand for online goods remains strong and retailers seek to position goods closer to their customers for faster delivery. Tight container shipping capacity and backups at inland rail hubs have hurt inventory restocking efforts. About 45% of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal in October estimated that it would take until the second half of 2022 for bottlenecks to have mostly receded, compared with two-fifths expecting major improvement before then. That means shortages and bottlenecks could weigh on production, delay spending and keep inflation high for months. The labor force decreased in September, and some economists say labor-force participation, or the share of Americans working or seeking a job, will never return to pre-pandemic levels. With fewer employees in the workforce, businesses are increasingly relying on automation and increased worker productivity to meet demand. A shortage of available workers is holding back sales growth at a Waltham, Mass.-based remodeling company, Out of the Woods Construction & Cabinetry Inc., said Greg Antonioli, president. He is seeking to add two to four carpenters to his 12-person business to meet demand, but he is struggling to fill the open roles. Two of his workers quit after he mandated vaccinations. Lead times for cabinets are up to 18 weeks, compared with five to six weeks in normal times, a reason Mr. Antonioli has had to push back start times for remodeling projects. “I’m really somewhat paralyzed by the amount of work coming in, he said. “I should be thrilled that the phone’s ringing off the hook, and I’m almost at the point of like, ‘Oh, my God, what are we going to do?’ Download.

economy 2021-10-29 Livemint