Christopher S. Rugaber, AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government is about to confirm what many people have felt for some time: The economy barely has a pulse.
The Commerce Department on Friday will revise its estimate for economic growth in the April-to-June period and Wall Street economists forecast it will be cut almost in half, to a 1.4 percent annual rate from 2.4 percent.
That’s a sharp slowdown from the first quarter, when the economy grew at a 3.7 percent annual rate, and economists say it’s a taste of the weakness to come. The current quarter isn’t expected to be much better, with many economists forecasting growth of only 1.7 percent.
Such slow growth won’t feel much like an economic recovery and won’t lead to much hiring. The unemployment rate, now at 9.5 percent, could even rise by the end of the year.
“The economy is going to limp along for the next few months,” said Gus Faucher, an economist at Moody’s Analytics. There’s even a one in three chance it could slip back into recession, he said.
Many temporary factors that boosted the economy earlier this year are fading. Companies built up their inventories after cutting them sharply in the recession to match slower sales. The increase provided a boost to manufacturers, but now many companies’ stockpiles are in line with sales and don’t need to grow as much.
In addition, the impact of the government’s $862 billion fiscal stimulus program is lessening.
That leaves the private sector to pick up the slack. But businesses are cutting back on their spending on machines, computers and software, according to a government report earlier this week. And the housing sector is slumping again after a popular home buyer’s tax credit expired in April.
“What we’re seeing is that the hand-off to the private sector is not looking as robust as we had previously hoped,” said Ben Herzon, an economist at Macroeconomic Advisors.
Many analysts say the uncertainty surrounding the economy is holding back consumers from spending and companies from investing and hiring.
Consumers can’t be sure their jobs are safe, with unemployment so high. Business executives don’t know if sales and profits will grow enough to justify adding jobs. And potential changes to tax laws at the end of this year and other policy reforms also make it hard to plan ahead, economists say.
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