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US growth slowed to 1.5% rate in Q2

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent from April through June, as Americans cut back sharply on spending. The slowdown in growth adds to worries that the economy could be stalling three years after the recession ended.

The Commerce Department also said Friday that the economy grew a little better than previously thought in the January-March quarter. It raised its estimate to a 2 percent rate, up from 1.9 percent.

Growth at or below 2 percent isn't enough to lower the unemployment rate, which was 8.2 percent last month. And most economists don't expect growth to pick up much in the second half of the year. Europe's financial crisis and a looming budget crisis in the U.S. are expected to slow business investment further.

Stock futures rose slightly after the report was released. Some economists had thought the growth estimate would be even lower.

“The main take away from today's report, the specifics aside, is that the U.S. economy is barely growing,” said Dan Greenhaus, chief economic strategist at BTIG LLC. “Along with a reduction in the actual amount of money companies were able to make, it's no wonder the unemployment rate cannot move lower.”

The lackluster economy is raising pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama in his re-election fight with Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

But few think the Fed, the White House or Congress can or will do anything soon that might rejuvenate the economy quickly. Many lawmakers, for example, refuse to increase federal spending in light of historically large budget deficits.

The 1.5 percent growth rate in the second quarter was the weakest since the economy, as measured by the gross domestic product, expanded at a 1.3 percent rate in the July-September quarter last year. GDP measures the country's total output of goods and services, from the purchase of a cup of coffee to the sale of fighter jets.

Current-dollar GDP increased at an annual rate of US$117.6 billion in the second quarter to US$15.6 trillion.

Growth was weaker mostly because consumer spending slowed to a growth rate of just 1.5 percent. That's down from 2.4 percent in the first quarter. Americans bought fewer autos, computers and other long-lasting manufactured goods. Spending on services increased.

They also saved more. The savings rate increased to 4 percent, up from 3.6 percent in the first quarter.

Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, was offset somewhat by a slightly smaller drag from the government. Spending by governments fell at an annual rate of 1.4 percent in the second quarter, just half of the 3 percent rate of decline in the first quarter.

The Commerce Department also revised its growth estimates for the past three years. Those revisions showed that the economy contracted 3.1 percent in 2009, slightly less than the 3.5 percent previously reported. Growth in 2010 was put at 2.4 percent, down from 3 percent, with growth in 2011 at 1.8 percent instead of 1.7 percent.

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