WASHINGTON: The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster 2 percent annual rate from July through September, buoyed by more spending by consumers and the federal government.
Growth accelerated from the 1.3 percent rate in the April-June quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday.
The report is the last snapshot of economic growth before Americans choose a president in 11 days.
The pickup in growth could lend weight to President Barack Obama’s message that the economy is improving. Still, economists say growth remains too weak to rapidly boost hiring.
And the 1.74 percent annual growth rate for the first nine months of 2012 trails last year’s 1.8 percent growth — a point that Republican nominee Mitt Romney might emphasize.
The economy grew faster last quarter because consumer spending rose at a 2 percent annual rate, up from a 1.5 percent rate in the second quarter. Spending on home building and renovations increased at an annual rate of more than 14 percent. And federal spending surged, mainly because of the sharpest increase in defense spending in more than three years.
Growth was held back by the first drop in exports in more than three years and flat business investment in equipment and software.
The economy was also slowed by the severe drought last summer in the Midwest. The drought cut agriculture stockpiles and reduced growth by nearly a half-point.
The government’s report covers gross domestic product, which measures the nation’s total output of goods and services — from restaurant meals and haircuts to airplanes, appliances and highways.
It was the government’s first of three estimates of growth for the July-September quarter. And it sketched a picture that’s been familiar all year: The economy is growing at a tepid rate, slowed by high unemployment and corporate anxiety over an unresolved budget crisis and a slowing global economy.
While growth remains modest, the factors supporting the economy have changed. Exports and business investment drove growth but are now fading. Meanwhile, consumer spending has ticked up. And housing is adding to growth after a six-year slump. Consumer spending drives nearly 70 percent of economic activity.
Businesses have grown cautious as customer demand has remained modest and exports have declined as the global economy has slowed.