WASHINGTON — After a dismal winter, the U.S. economy sprang back to life in the April-June quarter, growing at a fast 4 percent annual rate on the strength of higher consumer and business spending.
The rebound reported today by the Commerce Department followed a sharp 2.1 percent annualized drop in economic activity in the January-March quarter. That figure was revised up from a previous estimate of a 2.9 percent drop. But it was still the biggest contraction since early 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession.
Last quarter’s bounce-back was broad-based, with consumers, businesses, the housing industry, and state and local governments all combining to fuel growth. The robust expansion will reinforce analysts’ view that the economy’s momentum is extending into the second half of the year, when they forecast an annual growth rate of around 3 percent.
The second quarter’s 4 percent growth in the gross domestic product — the economy’s total output of goods and services — was the best showing since a 4.5 percent increase in July-September quarter of 2013.
At the same time, a higher trade deficit slowed growth as imports outpaced a solid increase in exports.
Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics, said that given the solid rebound last quarter, he’s boosting his estimate for growth this year to a 2 percent annual rate, up from a previous 1.7 percent forecast. Mr. Ashworth said the rebound also supported his view that the Federal Reserve, which is ending a two-day meeting today, will be inclined to start raising interest rates early next year.
Most economists have been predicting that the Fed would wait until mid-2015 to start raising rates.
“At the margin, this GDP report supports our view that an improving economy will persuade the Fed to begin raising rates in March next year,” Mr. Ashcroft wrote in a research note.
Mr. Ashcroft is among a group of economists who think growing strength in the job market and the overall economy will prod the Fed to move faster to raise rates to make sure inflation doesn’t get out of hand.
The GDP report showed that one measure of inflation rose 2 percent last quarter, up from a 1.3 percent rise in the first quarter. The Fed’s inflation target is 2 percent, and for two years the GDP measure of inflation has been running below that level. Low inflation has given the Fed leeway to focus on boosting growth to fight high unemployment.
The economy’s sudden contraction in the first quarter of this year had resulted from several factors. A severe winter disrupted activity across many industries and kept consumers away from shopping malls and auto dealerships. Consumer spending slowed to an annual growth rate of just 1.2 percent, the weakest showing in nearly three years.