CAMBRIDGE – The American economy has recently slowed dramatically, and the probability of another economic downturn increases with each new round of data. This is a sharp change from the economic situation at the end of last year – and represents a return to the very weak pace of expansion since the recovery began in the summer of 2009.
Economic growth in the United States during the first three quarters of 2010 was not only slow, but was also dominated by inventory accumulation rather than sales to consumers or other forms of final sales. The last quarter of 2010 brought a welcome change, with consumer spending rising at a 4% annual rate, enough to increase total real GDP by 3.1% from the third quarter to the fourth. The economy seemed to have escaped its dependence on inventory accumulation.