Obama’s Economy: Timing Everything

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Contractors lay down flooring at a construction site in Lorton, Virginia.

Timing is everything.

Before Election Day, it was reported that the nation’s unemployment fell below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years.

After Inauguration Day, it’s reported that  the economy contracted, with the nation’s gross domestic product dropping at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012, its worst performance since the second quarter of 2009, when the world’s largest economy was still in recession. And a remarkable swing from the third-quarter growth of 3.1 percent.

President Barack Obama rode to re-election in November with a sizable Electoral College majority in an election that was said to be inextricably linked to the health of economy. It turns out the economy was in a stall during that fourth quarter of 2012.

Behind these numbers, there were gains. Consumer spending grew during the quarter. Home sales are rebounding.

Consumer confidence has been rising, and consumer spending has been rising, but there’s more work to do,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in his press briefing today, “and our economy is facing a major headwind.”

“I don’t think any time you see a reduction in economic growth that it’s good news, but I think we need to understand what lies underneath it, the sharp drop in particular in defense spending, which is consistent with what we know has been going on in preparation for the possibility of sequester” of Defense Department and other discretionary spending,’ Carney said. “That was the case towards the end of the year when sequester was supposed to kick in on Jan. 1.”

“The broader point, I think, is that — and I think there’s been some reporting to reflect this — that there are — there remain even within this report indications whether it’s housing or consumer spending or business investment that we continue to be poised for positive economic growth and job creation,” he said. “And we need to make sure that in Washington we are not taking actions that undercut that progress that we have been making and can continue to make and will continue to make.”

Democratic activist Brad Woodhouse noted that one economist put the bad news-good news mix this way:

Paul Ashworth at Capital Economics called it “The best-looking contraction in U.S. GDP you’ll ever see.” wapo.st/VnIaCt

The re-elected president’s popularity is up again, at its highest level since his first year in office.

Timing still is everything.

And this president’s party has a lot of time — four more years — to deliver a GDP that looks good on Election Day 2016.

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