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Trump struggling to achieve economic growth White House projected

Gross domestic product in the third quarter increased at a 1.9% annualized rate, according to Commerce Department data Wednesday.

Amid a flurry of tweets about Ukraine, impeachment, and his claim of a lack of quid pro quo, the president tweeted once about the economy, declaring it “The Greatest Economy in American History!”

It’s true that the GDP number topped forecasts, but it was down from 2% in the second quarter, 3.1% in the first quarter, and is the lowest since the end of 2018.

“Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick” was how Chris Rupkey, MUFG Union Bank’s chief financial economist, characterized the report, in a note. “The economy isn’t going off the road and into a ditch, but the engines of growth are clearly tiring late in the business cycle,” he wrote.

President Trump’s trade war with China is weighing heavily on the economy as businesses pull back on investments in the uncertain climate. A further escalation in tariffs is still in play for Dec. 15, when both the U.S. and China will put tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s products.

“If it hadn’t been for government spending, real economic growth would have been more like 1.5%,” said Rupkey. Government spending helped offset the 3% reduction in non-residential fixed investment by businesses on commercial real estate, tools, machinery, and factories.

“The consumer is no longer holding up the fort and that's too bad because business investment in structures subtracted 0.4 percentage points and investment in equipment was a 0.2 percentage point drag. Lifting the hood, economic growth of 1.9% isn't as good as it seems,” Rupkey noted.

President Donald Trump walks from Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., as he arrives following a trip to Chicago to attend the International Association of Chiefs of Police Annual Conference and Exposition, Monday, Oct. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

While U.S. consumers are relatively confident and continue to shop, spending slowed to 2.9%, a drop from 4.6% in the second quarter.

Back in March, the White House projected that GDP growth would be 3% or higher over the next five years. That would be very difficult to achieve, given the economic slowdown seen so far this year.

“Economic growth still remains better during the Obama years with 2.9% in 2014 before the oil price crash, and the best the Trump administration has been able to do is grow the economy 2.8% in 2018,” Rupkey said. “Even if growth miraculously soars 4.0% in the fourth quarter, it won’t grow faster than 2.8% in 2019.”

The Federal Reserve, which has been under pressure from Trump, cut interest rates by a quarter-percentage point for the third time this year on Wednesday.

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