- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The economy is growing modestly, with consumers too wary about spending to invigorate the recovery.

That’s the picture that emerged from reports Tuesday on the economy and the confidence of consumers, who power 70 percent of it.

Unemployment and tight credit have sapped shoppers’ willingness and ability to spend freely as retailers enter their crucial holiday season. And Americans are expected to grow more cautious about spending next year. That would make for a plodding recovery.

The economy grew at a 2.8 percent rate last quarter. Forecasts for the current quarter are for similarly lackluster growth before a drop-off next year.

“It’s hardly a rip-roaring recovery,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services. “Usually coming out of a recession, you get growth more like a rodeo bull - at a pace of 6 or 7 percent in the early quarters of recovery. That isn’t happening. It is coming out of the stalls more like a fat cow.”

The Federal Reserve doesn’t expect the rebound to be strong enough to quickly drive down the jobless rate, now at 10.2 percent, according to documents of its meeting earlier this month. The Fed foresees a gradual recovery, with an elevated unemployment rate over the next several years.

Most Fed policymakers said it could take “five or six years” before the economy and the job market will be consistently healthy.

The Commerce Department’s revised estimate of gross domestic product (GDP) for July through September was less than the 3.5 percent growth rate foreseen just a month ago. And the estimate for GDP - the value of goods and services produced in the United States - was also a tad less than the 2.9 percent growth rate that economists surveyed by Thomson Reuters had expected.

The main factors behind the downgrade: Consumers didn’t spend as much. Commercial construction weakened. And imports exerted more of a drag on the economy. Businesses also trimmed more of their stockpiles, further restraining growth.

At the same time, the Conference Board’s latest survey of consumer confidence found gloom among shoppers.

“I really won’t be spending money on Christmas,” said Ivan Horne, 47, of Tampa, Fla., who has been out of work for about a year. “I’m barely able to make enough to survive.”

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