The U.S. economy grew by its fastest pace in six years in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to the latest government statistics. The government estimates that the nation’s gross national product surged by a 5.7 percent annual rate.
The economy expanded by an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the third quarter of 2009, the first positive jump since the recession took hold at the end of 2007. At its nadir, the U.S. economy contracted by 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2009.
Even with the fourth quarter surge—which is an estimate and may be downgraded slightly when the actual numbers are crunched—the U.S. economy contracted by 2.4 percent overall in 2009, its biggest drop in 63 years and the first annual decline since 1991.
Despite the robust fourth quarter numbers, economists are hesitating to declare an official end to the recession, a determination that will wait until an analysis by the National Bureau of Economic Research, which could take several months. Nevertheless, two consecutive quarters of positive growth traditionally signal the end of a downturn.
Analysts said the latest growth has been fueled by a turnaround in inventories, which were slashed by businesses in late 2008 and early 2009. Roughly 3.4 percent of the fourth quarter growth was attributed to the change in inventories, while the balance was largely due to a spurt in auto production and a jump in the value of exports.
The GDP report did not attribute specific growth to federal stimulus programs, but tax cuts and spending by businesses that received stimulus funds are believed to have impacted positively on the expansion.
Economists cautioned that while the new growth numbers indicate that the recovery has taken hold, the pace of the growth may not be sustained because it has been driven largely by temporary factors.