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Growth Weak In First Quarter

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WASHINGTON — High gasoline prices, government budget cuts and weaker-than-expected consumer spending caused the economy to grow only weakly in the first three months of the year.

The Commerce Department estimated Thursday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter. That was the same as its first estimate a month ago.

Consumer spending grew at just half the rate of the previous quarter. And a surge in imports widened the U.S. trade deficit.

Most economists think the economy is growing only slightly better in the current April-June quarter.

Consumers remain squeezed by gas prices, scant pay increases and a depressed housing market.

Analysts estimate that growth has accelerated slightly to around 2.5 percent in the current April-June quarter. For the entire year, they think the economy will grow around 3 percent. That would be little changed from the 2.9 percent growth in 2010.

Political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa sent energy prices soaring. The result was that consumers had to pay more for gas, leaving less money to spend on other items.

The government’s revised estimate for gross domestic product showed consumer spending growing at an annual rate of just 2.2 percent.

That’s sharply down from an initial estimate of 2.7 percent.

Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, had grown at a much faster 4 percent rate in the October-December period.

The GDP revision showed that the government sector is dragging on growth.

 

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