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US Economy Barely Advanced at End of 2015

A woman walks out of a Macy's department store in Brooklyn, NY, Nov. 12, 2015.

The U.S. said Friday that its economy, the world's largest, barely advanced in the last three months of 2015.

The Commerce Department said the anemic growth - just seven-tenths of a percent - reflected weaker consumer spending, investment cutbacks by businesses and slowing exports.

The U.S. report, the first of three estimates of the country's economic growth for the October-to-December period, comes amid slowing economic advances throughout the world and stock market turmoil across the globe during January. Analysts have mostly attributed falling stock prices to concern over plunging world oil prices and China's slowing growth.

The weak fourth quarter U.S. gain followed advances of 3.9 percent in the April-to-June period and 2 percent in the third quarter. But the unemployment rate in the U.S. has dropped to 5 percent, near its long-term historical average, and in recent months the American labor market has been adding nearly 300,000 new jobs a month.

Investors play cards in front of an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, Sept. 9, 2015.
Investors play cards in front of an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai, China, Sept. 9, 2015.

China, the world's second biggest economy, reported that its 2015 growth was the slowest in a quarter century, although at 6.9 percent is still markedly faster than that recorded by the West's democracies in the U.S. and Europe. The 19-nation bloc that uses the euro currency has been advancing at less than 1 percent a year in quarter after quarter since 2013, a weak recovery from the steep eurozone recession.

For all of 2015, the U.S. economy advanced 2.4 percent, the same as in 2014, and slightly ahead of the 2.1 percent average since 2010, the first full year after the end of the country's deepest recession since the Great Depression in the 1930s.

It is unclear whether the fourth quarter figure signals a continued slowdown or is merely a setback that will be reversed in the coming months.

The country's central bank, the Federal Reserve, felt confident enough about the country's economic fortunes in December to slightly increase its key benchmark interest rate, but when Fed policy makers met this week, they did not change it again and expressed some uncertainty about global economic trends.

The Federal Reserve said it is "closely monitoring global economic and financial developments and is assessing their implications for the labor market and inflation, and for the balance of risks to the outlook."