Consumers boost growth despite business caution

WASHINGTON, Fri Oct 26, 2012 – Economic growth picked up in the third quarter as a late burst in consumer spending offset the first cutbacks in investment in more than a year by cautious businesses.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2 percent annual rate, the Commerce Department said on Friday, accelerating from the second quarter’s 1.3 percent pace.

Still, the stronger pace of expansion fell short of what is needed to make much of a dent in unemployment, and details of the report did not bode well for an acceleration in output in the fourth quarter, as a spurt in government spending was see as temporary.

A growth pace in excess of 2.5 percent is needed over several quarters to make substantial headway cutting the jobless rate. Economists polled by Reuters had expected a 1.9 percent growth pace in the third quarter.

The report offers little cheer for the White House ahead of the closely contested Nov. 6 presidential election, in which President Barack Obama is trying to fend off Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

U.S. stock index futures pared losses after the data, while Treasuries briefly cut early price gains. The dollar trimmed losses against the yen, and cut gains against the euro.

Since climbing out of the 2007-09 recession, the economy has faced a series of headwinds from high gasoline prices to the debt turmoil in Europe and, lately, fears of U.S. government austerity.