WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy grew at a slightly faster 2 percent annual rate from July through September, buoyed by more spending by consumers and the federal government.
Even with the increase from a 1.3 percent growth rate in the April-June quarter, the economy remains too weak to rapidly boost job creation.
The report Friday from the Commerce Department is the last broad snapshot of the economy before Americans choose a president in 10 days.
Republican nominee Mitt Romney has attacked President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy and has noted that growth has slowed from last year. The 1.74 percent annual growth rate for the first nine months of 2012 remains slightly behind last year’s 1.8 percent growth. That, in turn, trailed 2010’s growth of 2.4 percent.
Obama has argued that the economy is steadily improving. Analysts cautioned that Friday’s report offered few signs that economic growth is gaining momentum.
“We suspect that growth will slow a little in the fourth quarter and expect it to remain close to 2 percent next year,” said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.
The economy grew faster last quarter in part because consumer spending rose at a 2 percent annual rate, up from a 1.5 percent rate in the second quarter. Spending on homebuilding and renovations increased at an annual rate of more than 14 percent.
And federal spending surged, mainly because of the sharpest increase in defense spending in more than three years.
Growth was held back by the first drop in exports in more than three years and by flat business investment in equipment and software. It was also slowed by the effects of the drought that struck the Midwest last summer.
The drought cut agriculture stockpiles and reduced the economy’s annual growth rate by nearly a half-point.
Once crop supplies return to normal, they will help boost economic growth, analysts noted.
The government’s report covers gross domestic product. GDP measures the nation’s total output of goods and services, from restaurant meals and haircuts to airplanes, appliances and highways.
It was the government’s first of three estimates of growth for the July-September quarter. And it sketched a picture that has been familiar all year — the economy is growing at a tepid rate, slowed by high unemployment and corporate anxiety over an unresolved budget crisis and a slowing global economy.
It is unclear what effect, if any, Friday’s report might have on the presidential race.
Some analysts said they doubted it would sway many undecided voters in battleground states.
“It’s moving in the right direction, but it’s still an unimpressive number,” says Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “It’s so close to the election I don’t know how many people are left to influence.”