First-quarter economic growth up 3.1%, slightly better than Wall Street expected

Key Points
  • GDP rose 3.1% in the first quarter, above Wall Street projections of 3% but one-tenth of a point lower than the first reading.
  • Net exports were a big contributor, adding nearly 1 percentage point, despite the U.S.-China trade war.
US GDP first quarter final reading revised to 3.1%
US GDP first quarter final reading revised to 3.1%

The U.S. economy grew by 3.1% to start the year, slightly better than expected and providing some relief at a time when recession fears are accelerating, the Commerce Department reported Thursday.

First-quarter gross domestic product beat the 3% Dow Jones estimate but was lower than the initial 3.2% projection from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The decrease came due to downward revisions to nonresidential fixed and private inventory investment, two key drivers to GDP.

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The new numbers, which represent the second reading, also reflect upward revisions to exports and personal consumption expenditures. Corporate profits also weakened, falling 2.8% across all companies and 0.5% in the S&P 500.

Inflation indicators also were weaker than expected, with core personal consumption expenditures up just 1.03%.

Exports rose 4.8% amid the increasingly bitter trade war between the U.S. and China, while imports, which are a subtraction from GDP, declined 2.5%. The level of net exports contributed nearly 1 percentage point to the GDP gain.

In the bigger picture, growth easily surpassed what most economists had been expecting at the start of the year. At one point, the Atlanta Federal Reserve was estimating GDP to rise just 0.2%. Strong contributions from real gross domestic income helped drive the better numbers, as did a rise in exports, state and local government spending and nonresidential fixed investment.

Corporate profits fell during the quarter, with nonfinancial corporations seeing a decline of $62.1 billion compared with an increase of $13.6 billion in the fourth quarter. Financial companies saw an increase of $7.2 billion compared with a decrease of $25.2 billion for the previous period.

Personal consumption expenditures rose 1.3% in the quarter, compared with a rise of 2.5% in the previous quarter but well above the 0.5% in Q1 of 2018.

Second-quarter growth is expected to decline significantly. CNBC's Rapid Update economist survey sees GDP up 1.8%, while the Atlanta Fed's projection is for just 1.3%.