WASHINGTON -- The US economy shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the weakest quarterly showing since the first quarter of 1982, the Commerce Department reported Friday.
The fourth-quarter pace was much worse than the 0.5 percent decline logged in the third quarter but slightly better than the 5.4 percent decrease economists expected.
For all of 2008, the US economy grew by just 1.3 percent, down from a 2 percent gain in 2007 and marking the slowest growth since the last recession in 2001.
A man leaves an Employment Services building in Washington Dec. 5, 2008. The US economy shrank at an annual rate of 3.8 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, the weakest quarterly showing since the first quarter of 1982. [Xinhua]
The 3.8 percent drop in the fourth quarter primarily reflected negative contributions from exports, consumption, equipment and software, and residential fixed investment, the Commerce Department said.
"The largest contributors were a downturn in exports and a much larger decrease in equipment and software," it said. "The most notable offset was a much larger decrease in imports."
As jobs disappear and major investments tank in value, consumers slashed spending at a 3.5 percent pace at the final quarter of 2008, following a bigger 3.8 percent cutback in the third quarter.
Spending by homebuilders plunged at a 23.6 percent pace in the fourth quarter, even deeper than the 16 percent annualized cut in the prior three months. That marked the 12th consecutive quarterly drop in this area.
Businesses cut their spending on equipment and software at a whopping 27.8 percent annualized pace in the fourth quarter, the highest since early 1958.
Meanwhile, US exports, whose growth earlier last year helped keep the economy afloat, turned negative. Exports plunged at a rate of 19.7 percent in the fourth quarter, the highest since the third quarter of 1974.
The big drop came as economic slowdowns in other countries cut into demand for US goods and services.
The report provided clear evidence that the world's largest economy has been hit badly by the still ongoing housing, credit and financial crises.
To revive the economy, the US House passed a 819-billion-dollar economic stimulus plan Wednesday and the bill is working its way through the Senate.
The figure of 3.8 percent is expected to be revised twice by the Commerce Department based on more complete data.