US economy shrank 0.7 percent at beginning of 2015

US economy shrank 0.7 percent at beginning of 2015
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The U.S. economy shrank by 0.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, casting new doubt on the strength of the economic recovery.

The new government estimate shows that the nation’s gross domestic product declined in the first quarter for the second straight year, after the economy shrank by 2.1 percent to open 2014. The new estimate marks the second of three by the government, which previously reported the economy grew a modest 0.2 percent in the first quarter of 2015.

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Analysts had expected the second estimate would likely show an economic decline, which the government attributed largely to a trade imbalance and a decline in state and local government spending. Personal consumer spending and some business investment contributed to economic growth, but were outweighed by those negative factors, particularly the decline in U.S. exports.

Exactly how much concern should come from the new report is an open question. While economic growth has been nonexistent, the U.S. economy continues to add jobs, as the unemployment rate hit a seven-year low in April.

Ian Shepherdson, chief economic at Pantheon Macroeconomics, called the negative trade data in the first quarter a “huge outlier” exacerbated by a port dispute along the West Coast, adding the economy is poised for a rebound on that front in the second quarter.

The Federal Reserve, which is preparing to increase interest rates for the first time since the financial crisis, has largely brushed off the disappointing opening to the year. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen has explained the dismal numbers by pointing to temporary factors, like harsh winter weather and the port fight, that weighed on the economy at the time but are not lingering issues.

The White House has made a similar argument, pointing to winter weather as a culprit. The Obama administration has also argued the weaker numbers to bolster their case for a new trade pact with a host of Asian nations. The president is pushing hard for Congress to pass legislation that would clear the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, despite some vocal opposition from liberals and labor unions allied with his own party.