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Exports Spur GDP Growth In Second Quarter

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. Among all the bad economic news, we begin this hour with some movement in the positive direction. It turns out that during the spring of this year, the U.S. economy was growing much faster than anyone thought.

A report out today on the gross domestic product suggests there's a disconnect between what people are experiencing - the job losses, the foreclosures - and what one of the government's most important statistics is indicating. Here's NPR's John Ydstie.

JOHN YDSTIE: Today's GDP report said the U.S. economy had raced ahead during April, May and June, growing at an annual rate of 3.3 percent. That's a very robust pace, says economist Nigel Gault of the consulting firm Global Insight.

NIGEL GAULT: That's quite a surprising outcome, given all the bad news we've been having over the economy.

YDSTIE: Right, like record home foreclosures, rising unemployment, a credit crisis, billions in losses at financial and auto companies, and your 401K leaking money like a rusty bucket. So what gives?

How can the GDP number be so disconnected from what many Americans are feeling? The answer, says Gault, is that we may be producing more, but we're shipping much of it overseas.

GAULT: We may be producing more output, but we're not actually able to use it for our own benefit, for our own consumption.

YDSTIE: Of course, Americans have built a lifestyle importing mountains of goods and services and consuming much more than we produce. So it's no wonder we've got the blues now that that's unwinding. Kent Jubick(ph), president of Ajax & Sons, a company that produces small metal parts like hinges and brackets in Fridley, Minnesota, some of them for export, he says there's a good deal of gloom in the community, people talking about the housing slowdown and foreclosures.

KENT JUBICK: I could go on and on and on about the doomsday, but we seem to do very well in the last six months in a slow economy.

YDSTIE: In fact, the company's exports to China have doubled in the past two years, and the surge in exports apparent in today's GDP report comes as no surprise to Dyke Messinger, who runs a factory in Salisbury, North Carolina.

DYKE MESSINGER: We've seen a nice growth in our exports this year on top of good growth last year, and it's coming from all over the world.

YDSTIE: Messenger is president of Power Curbers, Incorporated, which produces machines that make concrete curbs and gutters for streets onsite like a paving machine. He says sales are strong in South America, Europe, Asia, North Africa and the Middle East. But despite 20 percent increases in exports in the past two years, his profits are down because U.S. sales are suffering.

MESSINGER: When you're down 30 percent domestically, that 20 percent increase in international still doesn't bring you back to the level that you need to be.

YDSTIE: Unfortunately for manufacturers and the U.S. economy, says Nigel Gault, the export surge may not continue.

GAULT: Certainly going to continue to see support from exports, but it's hard to believe we're going to see as much support as we did in the second quarter, when export growth was 13 percent.

YDSTIE: That's because foreign economies are beginning to slow, especially in Europe, and the weak dollar, which has made U.S. goods much more competitive, appears to have bottomed out, and in fact has strengthened in recent weeks. John Ydstie, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

John Ydstie has covered the economy, Wall Street, and the Federal Reserve at NPR for nearly three decades. Over the years, NPR has also employed Ydstie's reporting skills to cover major stories like the aftermath of Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He was a lead reporter in NPR's coverage of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession, as well as the network's coverage of President Trump's economic policies. Ydstie has also been a guest host on the NPR news programs Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition. Ydstie stepped back from full-time reporting in late 2018, but plans to continue to contribute to NPR through part-time assignments and work on special projects.