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Atlanta Fed's closely watched GDP tracker shows next to no growth for first quarter

Key Points
  • The closely watched Atlanta Fed's initial estimate for first quarter growth is just 0.3 percent.
  • The forecast shows an economy that has stalled after the fourth quarter's 2.6 percent gain.
  • Economists have been expecting first-quarter growth below 2 percent.
  • Goldman Sachs economists see 0.9 percent for the first quarter and a bounce to 2.9 percent in the second quarter.
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow initial model estimate shows negligible growth for the first quarter of just 0.3 percent.

The Atlanta Fed noted Friday that the 2.6 percent estimate on Thursday of fourth-quarter real GDP growth was slightly above the forecast it released earlier in the week.

The first-quarter report, which was released on the Atlanta Fed's website, sent stocks lower Friday morning, but they later recovered.

Many Wall Street economists see growth below 2 percent for the quarter, but for the most part they remain above 1 percent. Goldman Sachs cut its estimate of first-quarter growth to 0.9 percent Friday, and Macroeconomic Advisors reduced its call to 1 percent from 1.1 percent.

Economists mostly expect a snap back in the second quarter. The Goldman Sachs economists also raised their expectations for second-quarter growth to 2.9 percent from 2.7 percent. They said their first-quarter forecast includes an expected drag from inventories, sequentially slower consumption growth, a drop in residential investment, and 0.4 percentage points drag from the government shutdown.

Friday's data included personal consumption expenditures, ISM manufacturing and consumer sentiment, all of which came in below forecast. The spending stats included December's data that had been delayed due to the government shutdown.

Many economists expect the weakness in the first quarter to be transitory, with the consumer and businesses affected by the shutdown and severely cold weather brought on by the polar vortex. There are also signs that the trade conflicts have impacted some parts of the economy.