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Modest growth

In this March 1, 2013 file photo, a crane removes a container from a ship at the Port of Baltimores Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore.
In this March 1, 2013 file photo, a crane removes a container from a ship at the Port of Baltimores Seagirt Marine Terminal in Baltimore.
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WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy grew at a modest 2.4 percent annual rate from January through March, slightly slower than initially estimated.

Consumer spending was stronger than first thought, but businesses restocked more slowly and state and local government spending cuts were deeper.

The Commerce Department said Thursday that economic growth in the first quarter was only marginally below the 2.5 percent annual rate the government had estimated last month. That’s still much faster than the 0.4 percent growth during the October-December quarter.

Most economists think growth is slowing to around a 2 percent annual rate in the April-June quarter as the economy adjusts to federal spending cuts, higher taxes and further global weakness.

Still, many say the decline may not be as severe as once thought.

That’s because solid hiring, surging home prices and record stock gains should keep consumers spending.

Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, said the small revision to first-quarter growth supported her view that the economy will grow a moderate 2.2 percent for the year, the same as last year.

Still, Lee expects growth to improve to 3.2 percent in 2014, as the job market accelerates and consumers grow more confident in the economy.

Consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of economic activity as measured by the gross domestic product. GDP is the economy’s total output of goods and services, from haircuts and computers to trucks and aircraft carriers.

The government’s second look at first-quarter growth showed that consumer spending roared ahead at a 3.4 percent annual rate.

That’s the fastest spending growth in more than two years and even stronger than the 3.2 percent rate estimated last month.

Healthy consumer spending shows many Americans are shrugging off an increase this year in Social Security taxes that has reduced most paychecks.

And more consumer demand could also prompt businesses to restock at a faster rate later this year.

Business inventories grew in the first quarter but at a slightly slower pace than first estimated.

That was a key reason for the small revision.

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