Economy Watch: Q3 GDP Growth, Oil Prices, Unemployment Claims

The third-quarter real gross domestic product increased at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent for the quarter, above expectation. Oil prices have continued to slide. During the week ending Oct. 25, initial unemployment claims increased by 3,000 week over week.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported its first estimate for the third quarter real U.S. gross domestic product on Thursday, finding that it increased at an annualized rate of 3.5 percent for the quarter, which was above expectation. During the second quarter, real GDP increased at an annualized 4.6 percent, a considerable rebound after the weather-inspired contraction in the first quarter.

The increase in real GDP during the third quarter was driven by positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (people spending their money), exports, and nonresidential fixed investment, the BEA said. Federal, state, and local government spending were also up. All those increases were partly offset by smaller private inventory investment (businesses spending their money). Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, decreased.

Perhaps one of the most significant changes reflected in the report is the return of state and local government spending to stronger levels. During the years of the recession and for some time afterward, state and local governments experienced an austerity not seen since the 1930s.

Oil Prices Continue Slip-Sliding

The growing U.S. economy hasn’t been pushing up international oil prices, which continued their slide this week. On Friday morning trading in Asia, the price of world benchmark, Brent crude, fell below $86 a barrel. October will (if prices don’t spike later in the day) represent the sharpest drop in Brent prices since 2012. Prices have dropped by about 25 percent since June 2014 and 9 percent in October alone.

West Texas intermediate, which is the U.S. benchmark oil, is likewise down, dropping 11 percent in October. Demand for oil in most parts of the world has weakened lately, but oil producers aren’t cutting production. OPEC is meeting next month, but even so, it isn’t expected to cut production.

A happy side effect of the oil-price retreat is lower domestic gas prices. AAA reported on Thursday an average for a gallon of regular of $3.01, down from $3.079 only since last week, and $3.333 a month earlier.

Unemployment Claims Edge Up, But Still Low

During the week ending Oct. 25, initial unemployment claims came in at an annualized 287,000, an increase of 3,000 from the previous week, though still quite low, according to the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday. The four-week moving average was 281,000, a decrease of 250 from the previous week, and the lowest for that metric since mid-2000.

Wall Street had a rollicking good day on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 221.11 points, or 1.3 percent, on news that a number of major companies turned in strong quarterly reports. The S&P 500 gained 0.62 percent and the Nasdaq gained 0.37 percent.

The markets have now gained back what they lost earlier in the month (there’s something about October that traditionally makes markets yo-yo, it seems). As of Thursday, the Dow is up 3.7 percent for the year. The S&P 500 has gained 7.9 percent and the Nasdaq has advanced 9.3 percent year-to-day.