WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy slowed to a modest growth rate of 1.9% in the summer as consumer spending downshifted and businesses continued to trim their investments in response to trade war uncertainty and a weakening global economy.
The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the July-September performance for the gross domestic product, the economy’s total output of goods and services, was just below the 2% rate of growth in the second quarter .
Economists had been forecasting a much bigger slowdown with fears GDP could slump to 1.4% or less given a number of headwinds.
Still, the GDP gain was far below the 3%-plus increases that President Donald Trump has set as a benchmark to demonstrate that his policies are succeeding in lifting the economy above the modest 2.2% growth of the Obama years.
Consumer spending, which accounts for 70% of economic activity, grew at a solid 2.9% rate in the third quarter, but it was still a slowdown after a 4.6% surge in the second quarter.
There were signs the trade battle and weak global growth were taking a toll as businesses cut back on their investment spending for a second straight quarter in the face of rising uncertainty. Business investment in structures plunged at a 15.3% rate in the third quarter after a sharp 11.1% drop in the second quarter.
Residential investment, which had been falling for six quarters, finally saw an increase, rising at a 5.1% rate, a gain that reflected the impact lower mortgage rates from the Federal Reserve’s rate cuts were having on sales and construction plans.
Government spending slowed to a growth rate of 2%, down from a 4.8% gain in the second quarter, with federal spending and state and local government spending all slowing.
The trade deficit, which has widened as Chinese retaliatory tariffs have hurt farm sales, trimmed GDP growth by about 0.1 percentage-point in the third quarter.
Economists believe growth could slow further in the current October-December quarter and into next year, given all the economic risks.
“We see GDP momentum softening ... as global headwinds, lingering policy uncertainty and squeezed profits erode employment growth and confidence,” said Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.