Q4 GDP Beats Expectations: What the Experts Say

The latest GDP report shows that the economy avoided recession last year, but market pros say we might not be so lucky in 2023.

an image of pennies with the letters GDP on top of them
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The U.S. economy expanded at a faster-than-expected pace in the fourth quarter, but GDP still slowed compared to the previous three-month period and experts expect growth to slow further as higher interest rates exact their toll. 

Gross domestic product (GDP) increased at a 2.9% annualized rate in the final three months of 2022, following growth of 3.2% in the third quarter, according to an initial estimate produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis on Thursday. The second half of 2022 stood in stark contrast to the first six months of the year when GDP contracted in both Q1 and Q2. 

The latest GDP figures, which are adjusted for inflation and are the first of three assessments, were goosed by inventory restocking and government spending. Personal consumption, which accounts for the largest slice of economic activity, rose 2.1%, which was below the sales forecast.

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Markets reacted to the mixed report with choppy trading. Indeed, the three major indexes struggled to stay positive in early trading. Ultimately, however, the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average, broader S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite all ended the day with gains. 

With the Q4 GDP report now a matter of record, we checked in with economists and other market pros to see what they had to say about the state of the economy, markets and the Fed's path going forward. Please see a selection of their commentary, sometimes edited for brevity or clarity, below.

What the experts say

two people pointing at a stock screen gdp economy recession

(Image credit: Getty Images)

"The U.S. economy grew at a decent rate in the final quarter of last year but largely due to a jump in inventories and government spending that's unlikely to be repeated. Real GDP rose 2.9% annualized in Q4, a little better than the market expected, following a 3.2% gain in Q3. For all of 2022, the economy expanded 2.1%, downshifting from the reopening bounce of 5.9% in 2021. Bottom line: The U.S. economy isn't falling off a cliff but it is losing stamina and risks contracting early this year. That should limit the Fed to just two more small rate increases in coming months." – Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets

"GDP rose 2.9%, of which inventories contributed 1.5 percentage points and foreign trade 0.6 percentage points, leaving just 0.8% growth in final domestic spending, which ultimately is what counts. Probably will be weaker in Q1, and inventory/trade will partly reverse, at least. So expect a clear drop in Q1 GDP." – Ian Shepherdson, founder and chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics

"Overall, a good report on the U.S. economy as well as for the Federal Reserve. While the economy continued to grow ahead of potential output growth (about 1.8%), prices did not reflect such strength and continued to slow down. It was clear that inflation continued to slow and that firms, especially in the goods sector, lowered prices in order to sell more goods during the holiday season. Furthermore, the relative weakening of the service sector, if sustained, will reduce pricing pressures from that sector, which should help keep prices contained overall and help the Federal Reserve (Fed) in its quest to rein in inflation going forward." – Eugenio Alemán, chief economist at Raymond James

"The economy grew decently in 2022 — the fears of a recession underway in the first half of last year were misplaced. However, the picture is different looking forward. The trend in real GDP weakened into year-end, and other economic indicators suggest the economy was on the cusp of contracting at the turn of the year. Other economic indicators like the ISM surveys of manufacturing and service-sector businesses show the private sector was contracting in late 2022. Financial indicators like the inverted yield curve also signal a strong likelihood of a recession ahead." – Bill Adams, chief economist at Comerica Bank

"The Q4 GDP report will likely reignite conversations about the economy sticking a soft landing. Given the softer inflation data, the Fed will likely downshift the pace of rate hikes to 0.25% at next week's meeting. However, other recession indicators are flashing red so upcoming monthly data, especially on the labor market, will be key for investors." – Jeffrey Roach, chief economist at LPL Financial

"It is encouraging to see another quarter of positive GDP growth, despite a volatile global economy and persistent fears of a recession. Fortunately, we are seeing that the Fed's aggressive interest rate hikes have started to slow inflation and consumer prices, giving the U.S. economy a stronger start to the new year. We also continue to expect that unemployment will remain below the natural long-run rate of 4.5% over the next two years. These factors will minimize some of the ripple effects of a potential recession and buy the Fed time to continue to reduce inflation." – Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group

"Real GDP grew at an annualized rate of 2.9% in the fourth quarter relative to Q3-2022. The outturn was a bit stronger than the consensus expectation, and it represents the second consecutive quarter of above-trend GDP growth. That noted the underlying spending components were not quite as impressive. Moreover, monthly data indicate that while the economy came into the fourth quarter with solid momentum, it ended the quarter with a distinct loss of momentum. Growth likely will be weak, at least relative to the last two quarters of 2022, in Q1-2023." – Jay Bryson, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities

"Thursday's GDP report suggests that the economy is relatively strong even in the face of aggressive measures by the Federal Reserve to calm inflation. Consumer and businesses and consumers are moderating their spending after the initial exuberant post-pandemic surge and we expect this slowing of momentum to allow the economy to tick along solidly but on a slower and more sustainable path. While January is shaping up to be a strong month, stocks are still trying to find their footing and we expect a range-bound market for the foreseeable future. There are few near-term catalysts that will drive markets decisively up or down, as Federal Reserve policy and softening inflation and earnings growth are already priced into markets. – Carol Schleif, chief investment officer at BMO Family Office

Dan Burrows
Senior Investing Writer, Kiplinger.com

Dan Burrows is Kiplinger's senior investing writer, having joined the august publication full time in 2016.

A long-time financial journalist, Dan is a veteran of SmartMoney, MarketWatch, CBS MoneyWatch, InvestorPlace and DailyFinance. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Consumer Reports, Senior Executive and Boston magazine, and his stories have appeared in the New York Daily News, the San Jose Mercury News and Investor's Business Daily, among other publications. As a senior writer at AOL's DailyFinance, Dan reported market news from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and hosted a weekly video segment on equities.

Once upon a time – before his days as a financial reporter and assistant financial editor at legendary fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily – Dan worked for Spy magazine, scribbled away at Time Inc. and contributed to Maxim magazine back when lad mags were a thing. He's also written for Esquire magazine's Dubious Achievements Awards.

In his current role at Kiplinger, Dan writes about equities, fixed income, currencies, commodities, funds, macroeconomics, demographics, real estate, cost of living indexes and more.

Dan holds a bachelor's degree from Oberlin College and a master's degree from Columbia University.

Disclosure: Dan does not trade stocks or other securities. Rather, he dollar-cost averages into cheap funds and index funds and holds them forever in tax-advantaged accounts.