Continue to bad-mouth the U.S. economy at your own risk.
The Commerce Department said Wednesday that gross domestic product expanded at an annual clip of 3.5 percent in the fourth quarter. It was the government's first estimate of fourth-quarter growth, and showed softer energy prices gave U.S. consumers more confidence to spend.
The latest reading on GDP tops the previous two quarters' performance; growth came in at 2 percent in the third quarter, and 2.6 percent in the second. The full-year GDP of 3.4 percent also topped the 2005 increase of 3.2 percent.
The improvement in the latest quarter reflected not only stronger consumer spending, but also better export growth and higher government spending, which expanded at a 3.7 percent clip, up from 1.7 percent in the previous quarter.
There were a handful of soft spots in the GDP report. Businesses spent less on equipment and software, and spending on home building plunged 19.2 percent, on the heels of the 18.7 decline in the third quarter.
Separately, the Labor Department said the cost to employers to hire and keep workers slipped in the fourth quarter, with wages and benefits rising 0.8 percent, down from one percent in the previous quarter.
All of these numbers come in advance of the Federal Reserve wrapping up its two-day meeting on monetary policy. The Fed is expected to leave rates unchanged.