On Friday, the government will offer up the latest reading on the pace of growth in the first three months of the year with the release of its initial estimate of first quarter gross domestic product.
The performance is expected to be much stronger than the last three months of last year, when worries about the looming "fiscal cliff" paralyzed businesses and consumers and brought the economy to a near standstill. Most forecasters are expecting a first quarter growth rate of about 3 percent—up from the previous quarter's dismal showing of just four-tenths of a percent.
That pickup in the economy came after the budget impasse in Washington was resolved at the start of the year and consumers and businesses made up for deferred spending, investment and hiring.
The growth spurt appears to be slowing now, although it's not expected to stop short. The slower pace more likely simply reflects a return to the sluggish subpar growth that has been in place since the Great Recession ended in 2009.
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"The fact that job growth fell below 100,000 a month in March is a bit worrying," said Paul Ashworth, U.S. economist at Capital Economics. "But if you look at February and March together, you've still got gains of 170,000 a month because February was that big."
Falling gasoline prices—down 6 percent since late February—are also helping to offset the burden consumers felt after a payroll tax cut expired at the start of the year. That should show up in next month's data as a boost to consumer spending, said Ashworth.
Since the financial collapse of 2008, central banks around the world have been flooding the global financial system with cash to try to get more money flowing through the economy. The U.S. Federal Reserve has pumped more than $2 trillion of cash into the system and is increasing that amount by $85 billion a month.
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Critics of the Fed's unprecedented easy-money policy argue that it raises the risk of inflation and provides fuel for another ruinous bubble. But despite the Fed's efforts to spur lending, much of the cash has been accumulating on banks' books. In any case, there is little evidence of inflation; consumer prices remain stable and wages are flat.
The longer-term economic outlook depends heavily on whether government spending cuts, which are only beginning to take effect, deepen later this year.
"The effects are cumulative," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors. "It's not going to happen right away, so it's going to take time as the impact builds later this summer."
Though there appears to be little progress on reconciling separate budget proposals from the White House, Senate and House, the political bickering that spooked businesses, consumers and investors late last year seems to have subsided.
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