US economy expanded by 6.4% in first quarter, pointing to fastest growth in years

Gross domestic product grew by 6.4% from January through March

The U.S. economy grew at a solid 6.4% in the first three months of the year, foreshadowing what economists think will be a gangbuster year for the nation's economy as it springs back from the coronavirus pandemic.

Gross domestic product, the broadest measure of goods and services produced across the economy, grew by 6.4% on an annualized basis in the three-month period from January through March, the Commerce Department said in its final reading of the data Thursday. 


Economists expect to see even stronger growth in the current quarter as widespread vaccinations allow businesses to fully reopen and eager Americans venture out to shop, dine at restaurants and bars and travel again. Boosting the recovery is close to $3 trillion the federal government has approved in stimulus measures since December.

"The revised data continue to paint a very positive picture of the U.S. economy's recovery from the coronavirus crisis," said Andrew Viteritti, commerce and regulations lead at the Economist Intelligence Unit. "We maintain our forecast that real GDP will expand by 6% year on year in 2021."

Looking at the quarterly data – which can provide a clearer view of the picture, since the Commerce Department calculates the GDP on a quarter-over-quarter basis as if that level of growth were sustained for a full year – the nation's GDP grew about 1.5% from the fourth quarter of 2020 to the first quarter of 2021. That's compared with growth of 1% between the third and fourth quarters.


The Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development forecast that U.S. GDP would grow 6.9% in 2021, the biggest increase since 1984. By comparison, GDP contracted at a 3.5% annualized rate in 2020, when the economy came to a near standstill to slow the spread of COVID-19, which has infected more than 33 million Americans and killed over 600,000. 

"Substantial additional fiscal stimulus and a rapid vaccination campaign have given a boost to the economic recovery," the OECD said in the report.