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U.S. economic growth was a bit faster than previously estimated in the fourth quarter, displaying underlying strength that could bolster views that the slowdown in activity early in the year would be temporary.
Source: Reuters – U.S. economy shows some muscle, housing still lagging

My perception is that it means the last three months of 2013.

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You have it right. –  relaxing Mar 27 at 15:11

3 Answers 3

The last three months of the year.

A (calendar) year is divided in four quarters:

1 - January, February, March
2 - April, May, June
3 - July, August, September
4 - October, November, December

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Note that many organizations operate on a "fiscal calendar" rather than the ordinary calendar for a variety of reasons. If the fiscal calendar starts on, say, November 1, then the "first quarter of the fiscal year" is November/December/January, the second quarter is February/March/April, etc. –  Jay Mar 27 at 17:21
    
@Jay makes a good point. Dividing the year into quarters is more common (in English) in business contexts than others, although it's not exclusive. In a business context, the fiscal year is more relevant than the calendar year, and the two are not necessarily the same thing. –  Brian S Mar 27 at 19:40

A quarter ( a three month period) is usually the standard period of time by which companies release their economic performance. Likewise it is also used by economists to measure macro economic trends. This practice allows easier comparison with past performance of the economy.

Gross Domestic Product for instance( as stated in your question) is usually mesured on a quarterly basis.

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Specifically, a quarter refers to a specific set of three months of the calendar year, counted from January. August, September, and October are three months, but would not generally be referred to as a quarter (they might say in the last three months or for the three months ending October 31 if necessary); a report on November 3 discussing the "previous quarter" refers to July 1 - September 30. Similarly, a company's fiscal year may start July 1, but their second-quarter financials are those from April 1 to June 30, not October 1 to December 31. –  choster Mar 27 at 15:55

Also note that within some industries, it is common practice to use a week based fiscal month, quarter, and year. The fiscal month does not necessarily start on the first calendar day and run to the last. In these fiscal calendars, the month refers to a specific number of weeks. This is done to even out the irregularity of the lengths of different months so that monthly and quarterly financial reports can be compared with other monthly and quarterly reports without skewing the numbers.

Some combination of two 4-week months and one 5-week month comprise a quarter and the pattern is repeated. E.g. 4-5-4 (Q1) 4-5-4 (Q2) 4-5-4 (Q3) 4-5-4 (Q4).

In this configuration, there are

4 + 5 + 4 = 13; 
13 * 7 = 91; 
91 * 4 = 364

days in each fiscal year. The beginning of each subsequent year "slides" backwards by one calendar day (two on Leap Years). As a result every five to six years a week is added to the fiscal calendar. The arbitrary selection of whether to add one week at 5 or 6 years is performed by the National Retail Federation.

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