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US economy grows at a solid 2.9 percent annual rate in in Q4

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By MARTIN CRUTSINGER , AP Economics Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a solid 2.9 percent annual rate in the final three months of last year, a sharp upward revision that caps three straight quarters of healthy growth. The Trump administration is hoping the economy will accelerate further this year, aided by sizable tax cuts and increased government spending.

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The gross domestic product, the country's total output of goods and services, grew at a faster clip than its previous estimate of 2.5 percent, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The gain followed increases of 3.1 percent in the second quarter and 3.2 percent in the third quarter.

The updated growth figure reflected in part more spending by consumers in services including auto repairs. Overall consumer spending grew at the fastest pace in three years.

For the year, the GDP expanded 2.3 percent, a solid rebound from a 1.5 percent GDP increase in 2016, which had been the weakest showing since the last recession ended in 2009.

President Donald Trump often points to the pickup in growth last year as evidence that his economic program of tax cuts, deregulation and stronger enforcement of trade deals is already having a positive impact.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump promised to double growth, which has averaged a lackluster 2.2 percent annually since the recession ended. The current expansion is now in its ninth year, making it the third longest on records going back to the 1850s. But it has also been the slowest in the post-World War II period.

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While Trump has talked about hitting GDP growth of 4 percent or better, his budget is based on an expectation that the economy will expand at average annual rates of 3 percent over the next decade. That forecast has been challenged as overly optimistic by private forecasters who point to the retirements of the baby boom generation and lagging productivity as factors likely to constrain growth.

But economists have been revising up their GDP forecasts for this year and 2019 based on Trump's success in winning approval in December of $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next decade and a February budget deal that will boost government spending on the military and domestic programs by $300 billion over the next two years.

Private economists do not expect the burst in government stimulus to last, forecasting that expected growth around 2.9 percent this year and 2.7 percent in 2019 will be followed by a return to slower rates closer to 2 percent. Interest rate increases from the Federal Reserve to guard against inflation and rising rates triggered by increasing government deficits are expected to slow growth in coming years.

"On balance, the stimulus coming from the tax cuts could be a net negative for the economy over time because of the rising budget deficits. That will lead to rising interest rates and I expect that will slow economic growth in 2020 and beyond," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University, Channel Islands.

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