Saturday, January 31, 2004

Slower 4th-quarter growth still shows solid recovery

By Jeannine Aversa
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - America's economy cooled in the final three months of 2003 but still advanced at a 4 percent annual rate - strong evidence the recovery was on solid ground heading into the new year.

chart The reading on the gross domestic product for the October-to-December quarter, reported Friday by the Commerce Department, came after the economy grew at an 8.2 percent rate in the third quarter. That had been the strongest performance in almost two decades.

GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced in the United States and is the broadest measure of the economy's health.

"The economy showed a solid performance in the fourth quarter, suggesting the economy is building momentum and is well-positioned for further growth despite the slowdown from the third-quarter's surge," said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Banc of America Capital Management.

The economy fell into recession in 2001, struggled mightily to get back on its feet and finally, in the last six months of 2003, staged a rebound. The 6.1 percent average growth rate seen in the second half of last year represented the fastest back-to-back quarterly increases since the first two quarters of 1984.

"The economy is strong and getting stronger," President Bush said Friday.

Analysts were predicting a slowdown in economic growth in the fourth quarter as the stimulative impact of tax cuts and a refinance frenzy - which propelled the economy during the summer - faded with the onset of winter.

The 4 percent growth rate for the GDP, however, was weaker than the 4.8 percent pace that analysts had been forecasting.

For all of 2003, the economy grew by 3.1 percent - the best showing since 2000 and an improvement over the 2.2 percent rise in 2002.

For out-of-work Americans, though, it may not feel like better economic times.

Job growth has been slow. The nation's payrolls grew by a scant 1,000 jobs in December.

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