July 31 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. economy shrank at the end of 2007 and grew less than forecast in this year's second quarter, signaling that the country is in worse shape than investors had anticipated.
``We're in a recession,'' Allen Sinai, chief economist at Decision Economics Inc. in New York, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. ``It's going to widen, it's going to deepen.''
The economy may weaken further as the temporary boost from tax rebates, which aided a pick-up in gross domestic product last quarter from the previous three months, fades. Stocks and the dollar dropped, Treasuries rallied, and traders reduced bets that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this year.
``This confirms the general picture of weakness, but it is surprising that GDP declined,'' said Martin Feldstein, who headed the National Bureau of Economic Research until June and serves on the group's recession-dating panel. He added that today's figures underscored his estimate that a downturn began in December or January. The last time the economy contracted was in 2001.
Gross domestic product increased at a 1.9 percent annualized rate, the Commerce Department said in Washington, compared with the median projection of 2.3 percent in a Bloomberg News survey. The Labor Department said separately that more Americans filed claims for unemployment insurance last week than at any time in more than five years.
Yields on benchmark 10-year Treasuries dropped to 3.97 percent at 10:47 a.m. in New York, from 4.05 percent late yesterday. The Standard & Poor's 500 Stock Index declined 0.1 percent to 1,283.1. The dollar fell 0.4 percent to $1.5632 per euro.
``As we look forward, we realize we have to grow out of a deeper hole than we thought,'' said Jack Ablin, who helps manage $55 billion as chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. ``We're going to operate at a kind of lackluster growth rate for many quarters to come.''
The smallest trade deficit in seven years, helped by the weakening U.S. dollar, prevented the economy from shrinking again last quarter. The trade gap narrowed to a $395.2 billion annual pace, adding 2.4 percentage points to growth, the most since 1980. Excluding trade, the economy would have contracted at a 0.5 percent pace, the second such decline in the last three quarters.
Exports may have also spurred a gain in the National Association of Purchasing Management-Chicago's business activity index. The group said today its measure increased to 50.8 this month from 49.6 in June. Fifty is the dividing line between growth and contraction.
``Exports are making the difference between a near recession, or mild recession, and a deep recession,'' Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at Global Insight Inc., a Lexington, Massachusetts, forecasting firm, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. ``We don't really see a recovery until some time in the spring or summer'' of 2009 for the economy, he said.
Initial claims for unemployment insurance jumped by 44,000 to 448,000, the Labor Department said today. The department tomorrow may say payrolls declined by 75,000 in July, bringing total job losses so far this year to over 500,000.
Annual benchmark revisions showed consumer spending slowed more than previously estimated and the housing slump worsened. The economy shrank 0.2 percent in the fourth quarter last year, compared with a previously reported 0.6 percent gain.
First-quarter figures were also revised down to show a 0.9 pace of growth compared with a prior estimate of 1 percent.
The median forecast of economists for the second quarter GDP figures was based on 79 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. Today's report is the first for the period and will be revised in August and September as more information becomes available.
Declines in growth in the revisions are reinforcing the recession signals sent by the loss of jobs so far this year. Still, a downturn is unlikely to be officially declared for months to come.
The NBER, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based arbiter of economic cycles, defines a recession as a ``significant'' decrease in activity over a sustained period of time. The declines would be visible in GDP, payrolls, production, sales and incomes. The NBER usually declares a recession six to 18 months after it begins.
Bush would become the first president since Richard Nixon to have two recessions while in office, after the downturn from March to November of 2001.
The housing slump continued to hurt the economy, even as the decline moderated. Residential construction dropped at a 15.6 percent annual pace after dropping 25.1 percent in the first three months of the year. The decline detracted 0.6 percentage point from growth, the smallest reduction in more than two years.
Consumer spending last quarter grew at a 1.5 percent pace, less than anticipated, compared with a 0.9 percent gain in the January-to-March period that was the smallest in 13 years.
Most economists are forecasting the lift from the rebates will fade in the second half of the year. Retail sales rose 0.1 percent in June, less than forecast, indicating consumers may already have started to retrench at the end of the quarter.
Shoppers are hunting for bargains to stretch the buying power of the stimulus checks. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the largest retailer, said same-store sales in June rose 5.8 percent, the biggest increase in four years, as costumers spent the rebate money on discounted gasoline and food.
``At times like now, when the average American is struggling with the cost of everyday needs, price matters,'' Eduardo Castro- Wright, chief executive officer of Wal-Mart's U.S. stores division, told shareholders last month.
The price index in today's report rose at an annual rate of 1.1 percent, the smallest increase since 1998 and down from 2.6 percent in the first quarter.
Investors are betting the Fed will keep the benchmark rate unchanged at 2 percent at its Aug. 5 meeting, according to federal funds futures contracts. Odds of an increase by year-end fell to about 60 percent today from 69 percent yesterday, futures prices showed.