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Economy takes $50B winter weather hit: CNBC survey

Severe winter weather this season may have cost the economy as much $50 billion and 76,000 jobs.

A CNBC Fed Survey of 19 Wall Street economists, strategists and fund managers puts the total weather impact at about a third of a percentage point on the $16 trillion US economy, or roughly $50 billion.

The big hit to the economy comes this quarter, where survey respondents estimated that bone-chilling cold and driving snow shaved about four-tenths of a point off total growth, including lost work hours and lost sales.

That's on top of a loss in the December quarter of 0.16 percent. But there is also an expected snap back next quarter of about 0.23 percent in part because of pent up demand — houses that still need to be built and cars that Americans had hoped to buy. Add it all up and the net is about 0.3 percent.

"It seems reasonable to conclude that the weather is impacting growth and equally reasonable to anticipate that it will be offset in Q2,'' said financial advisor Hugh Johnson.

A big decline in January retail sales looked to have been affected at least in part by weather with plunging auto, furniture and department sales. A big increase in building and garden supplies may have resulted from Americans buying shovels, salt and snow blowers.

The weather also appears to be hurting the jobs market. Respondents estimated that December, January and February payrolls were about 80,000 jobs lighter because of the weather, including a 32,000 hit to jobs in December, 25,000 in January and 19,000 in February.

But respondents only blamed the weather for about 45 percent of recent economic weakness, suggesting other factors are at work in the recent slowdown.

Economist Diane Swonk at Mesirow Financial said, "Weather losses are exacerbating the weakness associated with an overhang of inventories at the start of the year."

John Lonski at Moody's says adding to the weather woes are "higher bond yields, sluggish employment income and slower than expected spending growth in emerging market countries."

Indeed, the last two job reports have been well below the recent trend and the estimate of 80,000 lost jobs due to weather account for a only portion of the weakness.

- By CNBC's Steve Liesman

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