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Economy grew in first quarter

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy expanded at a slightly slower pace in the first three months of the year than originally estimated, as steeper government spending cutbacks and reduced private investment dragged on growth.

The Commerce Department on Thursday reported that the nation’s total economic output — also known as gross domestic product — grew at a 2.4 percent annual rate. The initial estimate last month was a 2.5 percent annual growth rate in the first quarter.

The figure gets revised twice as government economists get more data. Analysts polled by Bloomberg had expected Thursday’s second estimate to remain the same.

The Commerce Department said growth was slightly slower because increases in exports, imports and inventory investment by private businesses were less than initially thought.

Growth is expected to slow in the second quarter as the impact of automatic federal spending cuts that kicked in on March 1 start affecting the economy.

Preparations for those cuts began hindering growth at the end of last year. A drop in government spending also hurt first quarter growth.

Federal, state and local government spending declined at a 4.9 percent annual rate, sharper than the 4.1 percent decline initially estimated.

The annual pace of federal spending was down 8.7 percent in the first quarter, with defense spending down 12.1 percent

“But the general picture of overall economic activity is not greatly changed,” the Commerce Department said.

Consumer spending helped boost the economy in the first quarter, jumping at a 3.4 percent annual rate, up from the initial estimate of 3.2 percent. That was nearly double the pace of the fourth quarter of 2012.

Corporate profits were down $43.8 billion to $1.97 trillion in the first quarter after a $45.4-billion increase the previous quarter, the Commerce Department reported.

After-tax profits declined at a 1.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter after growing at a 3.3 percent annual rate the previous quarter.

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