WASHINGTON -- Economic growth skidded to a near halt in the first quarter, with the worst showing in more than four years raising concerns about how long the country's sluggish spell will last.
The Commerce Department reported yesterday that gross domestic product rose by just a 0.6 percent pace in the January-through-March period, much weaker than estimated a month ago. Government statisticians slashed by more than half their first estimate of a 1.3 percent growth rate for the quarter.
The main forces behind the downgrade: the bloated trade deficit and businesses cutting investment in supplies of the goods they hold in inventories.
What largely prevented the economy from going under: consumers, who showed an even bigger appetite to spend.
For nearly a year, the economy has been enduring a stretch of subpar economic growth due mostly to a housing slump. That in turn has made some businesses act more cautiously in their spending and investing.
The economy's 0.6 percent growth rate in the opening quarter of this year marked a big loss of momentum from the 2.5 percent pace logged in the final quarter of last year.
Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke says he doesn't believe the economy will slide into recession this year, nor do Bush administration officials and many economists. But ex-Fed chief Alan Greenspan has put the odds at one in three.