U.S. economy cools in fourth quarter, but consumer spending shines

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A shopper carries bags from Tiffany & Co. jewelers along 5th Avenue in New York City

By Lucia Mutikani

U.S. economic growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter as weak business spending and a wider trade deficit offset the fastest pace of consumer spending since 2006.

The slowdown followed two back-to-back quarters of bullish growth and is likely to be short-lived given the enormous tailwind from lower gasoline prices. Other data on Friday showed consumer sentiment jumped to an 11-year high in January.

“We look for strong domestic consumption to continue supporting growth momentum in the coming quarters even as investment suffers due to falling oil prices,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, an economist at TD Securities in New York.

Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.6 percent annual pace after the third quarter’s 5 percent rate, the Commerce Department said in its first snapshot of fourth-quarter GDP.

A gauge of underlying demand, which excludes trade, inventories and government, increased at a 3.9 percent pace. That compared to the third quarter’s 4.1 percent rate. Analysts said the data indicated domestic fundamentals were strong enough to cushion the blow on growth from weakening overseas economies.

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