Shutdown squeezed corners of US economy

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WASHINGTON — The full economic effect of the 16-day partial government shutdown will take months to tally. But it’s clearly it left footprints in key areas of the economy.

Spending at chain retail stores fell 0.7 percent last week. Mortgage applications dropped 5 percent. Auto sales slumped about 2 percent.

Overall, the shutdown cost the U.S. economy $24 billion, according to Beth Ann Bovino, an economist at Standard & Poor’s. That’s why she’s cut her forecast for growth in the October-December quarter to a 2.4 percent annual rate from an earlier estimate of 3 percent. Other economists have also downgraded their outlooks.

Still, the pain won’t be as severe as it could have been. For one thing, furloughed government workers will receive back pay. They and other Americans who delayed making large purchases in the past couple of weeks could step up spending in coming months.

Here’s how the shutdown affected the economy:

CONSUMER SPENDING: It’s hard to know exactly how much consumers will cut back. According to Gallup, consumer confidence fell in the first week of the shutdown by the most since September 2008, when the collapse of Lehman Brothers intensified the financial crisis. Historically, spending doesn’t always closely track confidence.

But weekly chain store sales fell 0.7 percent last week, the second drop in a row, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

History also suggests that consumers will bounce back quickly. Economist Joseph LaVorgna of Deutsche Bank notes that after a similar showdown over the debit limit two years ago, the economy grew over the next six months at the fastest pace in eight years. “Consumers’ memories are short,” says Michael Niemira, chief economist at the ICSC. “That could be good news for the economy.”

HOUSING: The steady recovery in home sales, construction and prices in the past two years has provided critical support for the economic recovery. There could be short-term bumps, though. Mortgage applications submitted by potential home buyers fell 5 percent last week. Applications for mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration and other government agencies dropped to their lowest level since December 2007, when the Great Recession officially began, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

AUTO SALES: Some Americans postponed or canceled auto sales, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Industry analysts blamed the budget battle in Washington and its effect on consumer confidence.

Auto sales have been a bright spot in the U.S. economy since the recession officially ended in June 2009.

HIGHER BORROWING COSTS: The uncertainty surrounding the government’s borrowing limit pushed up interest rates on one-month, three-month and six-month Treasury bills. That’s because investors grew nervous that the Treasury Department would miss an interest or principal payment on the debt. The higher rates could push up U.S. borrowing costs $114 million this year.


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