Originally created 12/01/05

Economy stands up to storms



WASHINGTON - The nation's economy demonstrated just how sturdy it is, posting its best quarterly showing in more than a year despite the Gulf Coast hurricanes.

Gross domestic product, the top measure of economic standing, increased at a hardy 4.3 percent annual rate from July through September, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. The reading was even better than the 3.8 percent pace estimated a month ago for the third quarter.

The upgraded performance reflected brisk spending by consumers and businesses despite record energy prices, and stronger investment in home building.

"The economy shrugged off the ill effects of the hurricanes very gracefully," said Mark Zandi, a chief economist at Moody's Economy.com.

The hurricanes did bite into economic activity, especially when it came to jobs. Mr. Zandi and other economists believe economic growth probably would have topped 5 percent if the hurricanes had bypassed the United States.

Nonetheless, the GDP's growth during the third quarter was the strongest since the first three months of 2004. Also, it showed that the economy gained considerable momentum from the 3.3 percent pace in this year's second quarter, the April-June period.

The third-quarter figure also exceeded analysts' projections of a 4 percent pace. GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the U.S.

Separately, a Federal Reserve report suggested the economy had solid momentum in October and much of November.

Manufacturing, retail sales and hiring improved in many regions, the Fed said. Housing activity, while still healthy, slowed in many markets; demand for home mortgages eased in some areas.

The Fed's observations added to other signs of a gradual cooling in the hot housing market.

Looking ahead, economists predict the economy will turn in a solid performance in the October-to-December quarter, even based on the assumption of consumers' belt-tightening.

Economic growth projections for the fourth quarter range from a growth rate of more than 3 percent to 4 percent.