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US economy shrinks 0.1 per cent

The US economy shrank from October through December for the first time since the recession ended, hurt by the biggest cut in defence spending in 40 years, fewer exports and sluggish growth in company stockpiles.

The Commerce Department says the economy contracted at an annual rate of 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter. That's a sharp slowdown from the 3.1 per cent growth rate in the July-September quarter.

The surprise contraction could raise fears about the economy's ability to handle tax increases that took effect in January and looming spending cuts.

Still, the weakness may be because of one-time factors. Government spending cuts and slower inventory growth subtracted a total of 2.6 percentage points from growth. Both are volatile. And they offset faster growth in consumer spending, business investment and housing.