US recession fears grow as economy slows sharply in first quarter
The world's largest economy slowed sharply in the first quarter of the year, according to the first official estimate which has raised fears of recession ahead.
Growth was measured at an annualised rate of 1.1% between January and March, the Commerce Department said.
Economists had been expecting a figure of 2%.
The slump followed growth of 2.6%, by the same measure, during the final three months of 2023.
The growth was mainly explained by consumer spending holding up, probably due to a low unemployment rate, as the aggressive pace of interest rate rises to tame inflation hit other areas, such as the housing market, harder.
The data also pointed to a big reduction in business inventories - behaviour that is typically seen in anticipation of an economic downturn.
Economists are split on the prospect of recession being declared.
The definition of a technical recession across most of the world is two consecutive quarters of negative growth.
By that measure, the US economy would have been in recession during the first half of last year.
But the country defines such a contraction differently. It is determined by a committee of experts.
The US economy's low jobless rate largely prevented a recession being declared last year but conditions are darkening for 2023.
Many economists say the cumulative impact of the Fed Reserve's rate hikes has yet to be fully felt while the pace of hiring is slowing.
Many banks, which are charging higher interest rates as a result, have also muddied the waters due to a tightening of lending standards since the failure last month of two major banks - Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank.
There are signs the crisis of confidence is not over yet as First Republic, a major regional lender, has seen a fresh run on its share price this week taking it to fresh lows.
It was effectively rescued last month by a $30bn cash injection from 11 major peers and revealed on Tuesday that $100bn had been withdrawn by depositors during the frenzy to grip the sector.
It has been reported that the federal government is unwilling to engineer a rescue.
Another political challenge is also gaining traction.
The Republican-dominated House of Representatives has moved to pressure President Biden over a looming debt ceiling deadline by voting to raise the limit only in exchange for big spending cuts.
A default would plunge the US economy into chaos so it forces Mr Biden to negotiate with his political opponents.
Brian Klimke, investment director at Cetera Investment Management, said of the economic growth figures: "January was really the standout month and since then we've seen weakness in February and March, which has really been slowly dragging down the economy.
"If we're looking to the future, data does seem to be continuing to weaken.
"The good news is we do think a recession could be mild."