ECONOMY End-of-year growth slows but still hints at coming strength

Last year was the best year for the economy since 2000.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The economy grew at a 4 percent annual rate in the final three months of 2003 -- a slowdown from the red-hot performance of the prior quarter but still compelling evidence of a recovery in full motion at year's end.
The reading on the gross domestic product for the October-to-December quarter, reported today by the Commerce Department, came after the economy grew at a sizzling 8.2 percent rate in the third quarter. That had been the strongest performance in nearly two decades.
Analysts were predicting a slowdown in economic growth in the fourth quarter as the stimulative impact of tax cuts and a refinance frenzy -- which propelled the economy during the summer -- faded with the onset of winter.
The 4 percent growth rate for GDP, however, was weaker than the 4.8 percent pace analysts had been forecasting. The GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is considered the broadest measure of the economy's health.
For all of 2003, the economy grew by a solid 3.1 percent. That marked an improvement over the 2.2 percent increase registered in 2002 and represented the strongest showing since 2000.
Job figures
For out-of-work Americans, though, it may not feel like better economic times.
Job growth has been slow. The nation's payrolls grew by a scant 1,000 jobs in December, disappointing economists and frustrating job seekers.
The economy has lost 2.3 million jobs since President Bush took office in January 2001. The president thinks a stronger economy will lead to more jobs. Democrats point to the job losses as evidence of what they say are the president's failed economic policies.
Analysts are hopeful that stronger job growth will take place later this year as businesses feel more confident in the economy and see their bottom lines improve.