The economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.1 percent in the October-December quarter, hurt by a sharp cut in defense spending, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles. That was much worse than the 3.1 percent growth recorded in the July-September period.

But economists predict that the October-December growth figure will be revised in coming months to show a small increase, after more positive data about last quarter has been reported. Economists now estimate that the economy expanded at an annual rate of about 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter.

Growth will likely pick up a bit in the January-March quarter to an annual rate of 1.5 percent, analysts forecast. That's better than the fourth quarter but below last year's expansion of 2.2 percent.

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