By Mark Memmott
The U.S. economy grew at a 3.5% annual rate in the third quarter, the Bureau of Economic Analysis just reported.
If that estimate survives revisions in coming months, it would mark the first GDP growth after four straight quarterly declines and could signal the end of the recession that officially began in December 2007.
The GDP figures are not the sole measure of the economy's health, however. Economists will still be watching employment, spending, production and other indicators before deciding if the recession really has ended.
For more on the economy, see Planet Money.
Update at 9:40 a.m. ET. The White House just released this statement from Council of Economic Advisers Chair Christina Romer:
"Data released today by the Commerce Department show that real GDP grew at an annual rate of 3.5% in the third quarter of the year. This is in stark contrast to the decline of 6.4% annual rate just two quarters ago. Indeed, the two-quarter swing in the rate of growth of 9.9 percentage points was the largest since 1980. Analysis by both the Council of Economic Advisers and a wide range of private and public-sector forecasters indicates that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 contributed between 3 and 4 percentage points to real GDP growth in the third quarter. This suggests that in the absence of the Recovery Act, real GDP would have risen little, if at all, this past quarter.
"After four consecutive quarters of decline, positive GDP growth is an encouraging sign that the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction. However, this welcome milestone is just another step, and we still have a long road to travel until the economy is fully recovered. The turnaround in crucial labor market indicators, such as employment and the unemployment rate, typically occurs after the turnaround in GDP. And it will take sustained, robust GDP growth to bring the unemployment rate down substantially. Such a decline in unemployment is, of course, what we are all working to achieve."
Update at 8:40 a.m. ET: Bloomberg News is saying that the GDP growth was "propelled by stimulus-driven gains in consumer spending and home building." Reuters says the growth "was generally broad-based, with solid gains in consumer spending, exports and investment in home-construction." The Wall Street Journal cautions that "a weak labor market is expected to keep the recovery subdued."
Update at 8:35 a.m. ET: The Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that 530,000 people filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week. The decline of 1,000 from the previous week was less than the 10,000-drop that many economists had expected, the Associated Press says.