U.S. Economy Unexpectedly Contracts in Fourth Quarter

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WASHINGTON—U.S. economic momentum screeched to a halt in the final months of 2012, as businesses pared back inventories and government spending fell sharply, while lawmakers struggled to reach a deal on tax increases and budget cuts.

The nation’s gross domestic product shrank for the first time in three and a half years during the fourth quarter, declining at an annual rate of 0.1% between October and December, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

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