2008 GDP, Growth, and Updates by Quarter

The Financial Crisis Bludgeons the Economy

••• Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

In 2008, the Great Recession hit with a vengeance. The economy produced $14.4 trillion in goods and services, as measured by real gross domestic product. That was 2.5 percent lower than the prior year.

The subprime mortgage crisis of 2006 and the banking liquidity crisis of 2007 had finally spread to the general economy and the stock market.

There were three quarters where the economy contracted. In the First Quarter, covering January to March, the economy contracted 2.7 percent and real GDP was $14.89 trillion 

That would have signaled recession, had we known it at the time. Instead, the Bureau of Economic Analysis initially reported the economy had grown 0.6 percent. And we didn't get that report until the end of April, as the table below reveals.

That was right after the Federal Reserve convened its first emergency meeting in 30 years to bail out Bear Stearns. In April, everyone thought that the worst was behind us.

We looked forward to better growth in the Second Quarter, April to June. When the BEA released its Advance report at the end of July, things looked good. It said the economy had grown 1.9 percent. That was supported by the 2015 revision. It showed a solid 2 percent growth rate and real GDP of $14.96 trillion.

In the Third Quarter, July to September, the economy contracted 1.9 percent and real GDP was $14.89 trillion according to the final revision. By that time, the government had bailed out mortgage guarantors Fannie and Freddie and insurance company AIG.

Investment bank Lehman Brothers had gone bankrupt in September, triggering a 777 point crash in the Dow.  

The Advance release came out at the end of October and showed just a 0.3 percent contraction. Consumer spending fell 3.1%, the first since 1991 and the largest since 1980. That was driven by a 6.4% drop in purchases of clothing and food, the biggest since 1950.


The economy contracted 8.2 percent in the Fourth Quarter, October to December.  Real GDP was just $14.56 trillion. The TARP bailout prevented worse collapse. In November, the Dow fell to 7,552.29 from its 14,164.53 high set on October 9, 2007  A strong dollar cut exports. The crisis sent investors toward the dollar as a safe haven. The 2008 financial crisis timeline relates the events in more detail.

GDP Growth Rate Estimates and Revisions: How It Works

The table below shows the initial estimates and all revisions for each quarter in 2008. The BEA releases the Advance estimate the month after each quarter ends. The second estimate is released the next month, and the Final the month after that.

For example, the BEA released the Advance estimate for Q1 (January - May) at the end of April. It reported the Second estimate at the end of May, and the Final estimate came out at the end of June.

The BEA revised its estimates each year, based on additional data. Those revisions come out in June each year. They usually accompany a review of other years. The BEA recalibrates all statistics based on additional data.

Of course, these revisions make people suspicious of the BEA and all government reports.

It looks like they just don't know what's going on. They don't do a good job of explaining it. Nevertheless, Wall Street is so hungry for any data that it hangs on every BEA report. 

Take a look at Q3, and you'll see the recession was much, much worse than we knew at the time. The BEA revised estimate shows the economy contracted 8.3 percent, much worse than the 5.4 percent contraction in the original estimate. It is also worse than any quarterly contraction in any recession since the Great Depression as revealed by a close look at the history of recessions.

Period  Initial Estimates Revisions
 Advance Second Final2009 2010 2011201320152018
2008  1.3% 1.1% 1.1% 0.4%  0% -0.3% -0.3% -0.3% -0.1%
Q1 0.6% 0.9%  1.0%  1.0% -0.7% -1.8%  -1.8% -2.7% -2.3%
NotesIt felt like a recession, even with slight growth.Exports made it seem that growth was better.Revisions revealed the recession had already begun.
Q2 1.9% 3.3% 2.8% 1.5% 0.6% 1.3% 1.3% 2.0% 2.1%
NotesLooked like the worst was behind us.New data showed more exports and fewer imports than originally thought.      
Q3 -0.3% -0.5% 0.5% -2.7% -4.0% -3.7% -2.0% -1.9% -2.1%
NotesGrowth contracted for the 2nd time in a year.    
Q4  -3.8%  -6.1%  -6.3% -5.4% -6.8% -8.9% -8.3% -8.2% -8.4%
NotesThe worst drop since the 1982 recessionNew data revealed the contraction was much worse than originally thought.     


More GDP Facts: Current | 2009U.S. GDP History