How much did the harsh winter weather affect the U.S. economy in the first quarter of this year?
We know that the economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), contracted at an annual rate of 2.9 percent over January, February and March, the first quarterly decline in three years. But how were different industries affected and was weather a factor? New data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis provide fresh insights on that front.
The economy’s downturn in the first quarter was widespread, with 19 of 22 major industry groups contributing to the drop in U.S. economic activity, the new BEA data show. Some of the leading contributors to the downturn included industries that were impacted by the unusually harsh winter weather that hit most of the United States, including “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.”
Severe weather conditions can have both positive and negative (although mostly negative) effects on the Nation’s economic performance. For some industries this is intuitive, like “agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting” and “construction;” for other industries, like “mining,” and “nondurable-goods manufacturing,” the link may not be as intuitive.
Real value added —a measure of an industry’s contribution to GDP—for agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting declined 31 percent in the first quarter, reflecting a drop in the production of farm-type products, including livestock and dairy.
Construction fell almost 9 percent, reflecting a notable decline in nonresidential construction activity that began in January and continued through March; unusually cold and wet weather hampered construction activity.
Perhaps somewhat surprising, the utility industry also contributed to the decline in GDP in the first quarter. While demand for additional utilities, for example electricity generation, was evident with the severe winter weather, a surge in the costs of the inputs used by the utilities industry—things like energy, materials, and purchased services used in the production process—caused real value added to drop over 16 percent in the first quarter.