The Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that U.S. real GDP grew at a 0.7% annual rate in the fourth quarter. That’s a bad quarter to be sure, and real GDP is up only 1.8% from a year ago. That’s a weak year judged by the U.S. postwar average of 3.1%, but is not far from the 2.1% annual growth we’ve been averaging since 2009:Q3.

Real GDP growth at an annual rate, 1947:Q2-2015:Q4, with historical average (3.1%) in blue and post-Great-Recession average (2.1%) in red.

One concerning detail in today’s report was that nonresidential fixed investment fell during the quarter, pulled down in part by slashed capital spending in the oil patch. Inventory drawdown (often an erratic component) and net exports each subtracted almost half a percentage point from the annualized Q4 growth rate.

Weakness in the global economy and strong dollar were surely factors in the drop in net exports. The U.S. is not immune to developing concerns in Europe, China, Japan, and elsewhere.

Source: Jason Furman.

The Q4 GDP numbers produced a modest increase in the Econbrowser Recession Indicator Index up to 10%. The index uses today’s data release to form a picture of where the economy stood as of the end of 2015:Q3. That’s still way below the 67% threshold at which our algorithm would declare that the U.S. had entered a new recession.

GDP-based recession indicator index. The plotted value for each date is based solely on information as it would have been publicly available and reported as of one quarter after the indicated date, with 2015:Q3 the last date shown on the graph. Shaded regions represent the NBER’s dates for recessions, which dates were not used in any way in constructing the index, and which were sometimes not reported until two years after the date.

With much talk of recession in the air these days, I was curious to look at some other indicators. UCLA Professor Ed Leamer suggested four useful rules of thumb. He noted that a recession is usually characterized by an increase in the unemployment rate of 0.8 percentage points over a 6-month period. Today’s unemployment rate is actually 0.3% lower than it was in June.

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