WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate in the October-December quarter, slightly more than previously estimated, as consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in three years.
The fourth-quarter growth rate was a bit stronger than the 2.4 percent estimate made last month, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. The revision reflected stronger consumer spending, which rose at an annual rate of 3.3 percent — its best quarterly pace since 2010.
Even with the upward revision, growth in the overall economy slowed from a 4.1 percent pace in the July-September quarter. Analysts think growth has slowed even more in the current January-March period to around a 2 percent annual rate. A harsh winter has disrupted factory production and kept people away from shopping malls.
But once warmer weather appears, analysts are looking for a rebound in economic activity with consumer spending expected to be helped by pent-up demand from purchases that were deferred during the bad weather.
Analysts viewed the upward revision to fourth quarter growth as an encouraging sign showing that the economy had more momentum going into the first quarter than previously believed.
Sal Guatieri, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, forecast that first quarter growth would slow to around 1.7 percent because of the winter disruptions but he said growth will likely rebound to around 3 percent in the April-June period.
Many economists are forecasting that growth for the entire year will hit 3 percent. If that forecast proves accurate, it would make growth this year the strongest since 2005, two years before the nation plunged into the worst recession since the 1930s.
Since the recession ended in June 2009, the economy has struggled to gain momentum and the weak growth has made it harder for people who lost jobs during the downturn to find work.
The report Thursday on overall economic growth as measured by the gross domestic product was the government's third and final look at the fourth quarter GDP.
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