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U.S. economy grinds to near halt at end of 2015

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NEW YORK — America lost its momentum at the end of 2015.

The U.S. economy only grew 0.7% between October and December. It’s the slowest pace since the first quarter of 2015, when the economy grew at a 0.6% pace as parts of the country battled with blizzards and businesses shutting down.

For the year, the U.S. economy grew 2.4% in 2015, matching the gains made in 2014.

The slowdown in the last three months of 2015 is more worrisome. A global economic slowdown appears to be finally weighing heavily on the American economy. Despite a strong job market, other signs point to slowing growth.

American manufacturing, which makes up 10% of the economy, is in a recession and the industry’s key index, ISM, has declined for six straight months. Consumer spending was negative or flat for seven out of 12 months last year.

The country’s biggest corporations are also watching sales and profits decline as overseas business is hurt by the strong dollar, falling oil prices and uncertainty over China’s economy.

Another sign of caution from consumers came Friday. The personal savings rate ticked up to 5.4% in December compared to 5.2% in November. When savings go up, it shows that consumers are more reluctant to spend, reflecting their concerns about the economy’s future.

That reluctance showed up at the cash register. One measure of consumer spending — personal consumption expenditures — was nearly flat in the fourth quarter.

Friday’s low figure will likely stoke more debate about the possibility of an American recession in 2016. In any year, there’s about a 10% chance of recession, but some banks, such as Morgan Stanley, estimate there’s a 20% chance the economy dives south this year.

Still, it’s worth remembering that America has been growing jobs at a healthy pace, offering some hope that consumers will start spending soon and offer respite from the overseas headwinds. Unemployment is down to a healthy 5%.

“While the global economy will be a headwind to growth, the consumer will pick up a bit,” says Michael Materasso, senior vice president at Franklin Templeton.

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