NAM Foresees Just 2.6% Growth This Quarter

David Huether, chief economist at the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), isn't as bearish about first-quarter 2006 U.S. GDP growth as are the economists at Merrill Lynch & Co. But he's close.

Anticipating that high winter heating bills will continue to constrain consumer spending, Huether expects inflation-adjusted GDP growth at an annual rate of 2.6% in the current calendar quarter. Merrill's economists are looking for just a 2.2% rate during the first quarter -- an even lower 2% rate in the second quarter, followed by a 2.5% rate in the third quarter and a 3% rate in the fourth. In contrast, Huether is relatively bullish on the rest of the year, predicting a 3.6% growth rate once the first quarter is past.

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