The U.S. economy slowed during the last quarter of 2003, but nevertheless expanded at a relatively strong four percent annual rate.

The growth figures were below expectations for nearly 5 percent during the fourth quarter and well below the torrid 8 percent growth rate registered in the previous three-month period.

"A year ago we thought 4 percent was next to impossible," said Steven Wieting, an economist at Citibank in New York. "Now, we find that 4 percent growth can follow an 8.2 percent quarter. So we've had over 6 percent growth in the back half of 2003. I think the 4 percent is probably within the bounds of what we could have expected for error, given that this in an advance report.

The fourth quarter gross domestic product will be revised twice more in coming weeks. Mr. Wieting spoke on CNBC television.

For 2003 as a whole, the U.S. economy expanded by 3.1 percent. That compares to only 2 percent growth in 2002 and a mild downturn in the recession year of 2001. Gross domestic product is the total value of all goods and services produced.

While the U.S. economy has rebounded strongly in recent months, the recovery has thus far failed to produce many new jobs. While employment growth has been slow, interest rates and inflation remain very low and consumer and business confidence has been rising.