US economy ends ’15 on better note, starts ’16 with a bang

Published 9:52 am Friday, February 26, 2016

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy got a double dose of good news Friday. Economic growth in the final three months of 2015 didn’t slow as much as previously estimated, and consumers roared back to life in January, spending at the fastest clip in eight months.

The Commerce Department said that consumer spending increased 0.5 percent last month, the best showing since May and far higher than the tiny 0.1 percent gain in December. Economists are expecting stronger consumer spending, which accounts for two-thirds of economic activity, to lift overall economic growth in the new year after a fourth-quarter slowdown.

In a separate report, the government said the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of economic health, grew at an annual rate of 1 percent in the fourth quarter. That’s an improvement from the first estimate of 0.7 percent, though just half the 2 percent growth posted in the third quarter.

Email newsletter signup

The revision was made because the downturn in business stockpiling was less severe than the government’s first estimate. That helped offset slightly weaker consumer spending.

The Federal Reserve is closely watching economic data to determine how fast it needs to raise interest rates this year. The spending report showed that inflation, by a price measure preferred by the Fed, rose by 1.3 percent in the 12 months ending in January. That is nearly double the 0.7 percent 12-month gain seen in December but still below the Fed’s inflation target of 2 percent annual price increases.

Still, the inflation jump was sharp enough that it is sure to attract attention among Fed officials who are watching price increases for signals on how fast to raise interest rates. The Fed boosted a key rate by a quarter point in December, moving it from a record low near zero, where it had been for seven years.