U.S. workers boosted output per hour this summer at the best rate in three years, a sign that long sluggish productivity gains might finally be breaking out. Nonfarm business-sector productivity increased at a 3.0% seasonally adjusted annual rate in the third quarter, the Labor Department said Thursday. The gain was better than economists had expected and the largest quarterly improvement since the third quarter of 2014. Productivity is on pace to grow this year at the best pace since 2010, when the economy was first emerging from a deep recession. That’s an improvement from near zero much of 2015 and 2016.
The U.S. economy grew robustly in the third quarter despite two hurricanes, propelled by steady spending from American businesses and households.
Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services made in the U.S., expanded at a 3% annual rate in July through September, the Commerce Department said Friday. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had projected a 2.7% gain.
Output expanded at 3.1% rate in the second quarter. This marks the economy's best six-month stretch since mid-2014.
This increase in average hourly earnings stems from a 2.5-percent increase in average hourly earnings being offset by a 2.3-percent increase in the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).
The increase in real average hourly earnings combined with no change in the average workweek resulted in a 0.2-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.
U.S. consumer prices rose 0.5% in September, the largest increase in eight months. The result reflects another big jump in energy prices in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which shut Gulf Coast refineries and caused gasoline prices to jump across the country.
The September increase in the closely watched consumer price index was the biggest one-month gain since a 0.6% rise in January, the Labor Department reported Friday.
Energy prices shot up 6.1%, led by a 13.1% surge in gasoline. Analysts believe that the impact of the hurricane will be temporary.
Core inflation, which excludes volatile food and energy, rose a tiny 0.1% in September.
Over the last year, overall prices are up 2.2%, while core inflation has risen 1.7%.
Companies have grown more reluctant to borrow after an initial surge of optimism following the election, said Jeff Glenzer, vice president at the Association for Financial Professionals, a group for corporate finance and treasury professionals. “All the turmoil and the inability to move policy through Washington set in,” he said.
But analysts say the prolonged slowdown in commercial-loan growth may simply be a function of the metric returning to its normal level in recent decades. Growth in the category ran far above gross domestic product growth in the years following the financial crisis, a streak that is difficult to maintain for any prolonged period.