WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The economy grew slower than initially estimated in the fourth quarter as government investment contracted more sharply and consumer spending was less robust, a government report showed on Friday.
Gross domestic product growth was revised down to an annualized rate of 2.8 percent, the Commerce Department said in its second estimate, from 3.2 percent.
Economists had expected GDP growth, which measures total goods and services output within U.S. borders, to be revised up to a 3.3 percent pace. The economy expanded at a 2.6 percent rate in the third quarter. For the whole of 2010, the economy grew 2.8 percent instead of 2.9 percent.
The report confirmed the Federal Reserve's concerns that the pace of growth remained too slow to significantly lower a 9.0 percent unemployment rate. It makes it very likely that the U.S. central bank will complete its $600 billion government bond- buying program to further stimulate demand by lowering interest rates.
The government revised fourth-quarter growth to reflect a steeper contraction in government spending than previously estimated. Government spending declined at a 1.5 percent rate rather than 0.6 percent, due to weak state and local government outlays.
In addition, consumer spending -- which accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity -- grew at a 4.1 percent rate in the final three months of 2010 instead of 4.4 percent.
It was still the fastest since the first three months of 2006 and was an acceleration from the third quarter's 2.4 percent rate. But there are concerns that surging crude oil prices could hurt consumer spending and slow the economy's recovery.
The government revised business investment up, though spending on equipment and software was lower. Business spending increased at a 5.3 percent rate instead of 4.4 percent. Nonresidential spending grew at a 10.0 percent pace in the third quarter. Spending on software and equipment increased at a 5.5 percent rate instead of 5.8 percent.
Business inventories subtracted 3.70 percentage points from GDP growth, unrevised from last month. Business inventories increased $7.1 billion instead of the $7.2 billion estimated last month.
Excluding inventories, the economy expanded at a 6.7 percent pace rather than 7.1 percent. It still marked the biggest increase in domestic and foreign demand since 1998. In contrast, domestic purchases grew at a much more moderate 3.1 percent rate instead of 3.4 percent.
Exports were revised higher, but the upward revision to imports was even greater. Trade added 3.35 percentage points to GDP growth instead of 3.44 percentage points.
The report confirmed a pick-up in inflation pressures on surging food and gasoline prices. The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) index rose at an unrevised 1.8 percent rate in the fourth quarter. That was a sharp gain from 0.8 percent in the third quarter.
But a "core" price index closely watched by the Fed advanced at a revised 0.5 percent rate instead of 0.4 percent. The increase, which matched the third quarter, was still the smallest rise on record.
(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani, Editing by Andrea Ricci)
Copyright 2010 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.