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U.S. first-quarter economic growth weak

WASHINGTON -- High gasoline prices, government budget cuts and weaker-than-expected consumer spending caused the U.S. economy to grow only weakly in the first three months of the year.

The Commerce Department estimated yesterday that the economy grew at an annual rate of 1.8 percent in the January-March quarter. That was the same as its first estimate a month ago.

Consumer spending grew at just half the rate of the previous quarter. And a surge in imports widened the U.S. trade deficit.

Consumers remain squeezed by gas prices, scant pay increases and a depressed housing market. Analysts estimate that growth has accelerated slightly, to around 2.5 percent, in the current April-June quarter. ---- AP

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