Still, economists expect that figure will be revised in the coming months to show a small increase. That's because December trade data, which wasn't available when the government calculated its first estimate for fourth-quarter growth, showed solid growth in exports.
Economists at Barclays Capital estimate the economy expanded at a 0.5 percent rate in the fourth quarter. And growth will likely pick up in the January-March quarter to an annual rate of 1.5 percent, analysts forecast.
A better job market could boost consumer spending, leading to faster U.S. growth. Employers added 157,000 jobs in January and an average of 200,000 jobs a month since November. U.S. factories have added jobs for the past four months.
Still, unemployment remains high at 7.9 percent. And Americans are seeing smaller paychecks this year because of an increase in Social Security taxes, which could offset any benefits from stronger hiring.