Economy Grew 5.7 Percent in Fourth Quarter, Capping Dismal Year

The U.S. economy grew at a better-than-expected 5.7 percent in the final three months of 2009, the Commerce Department reported Friday, bringing the full-year numbers to a 2.4 percent contraction, the worst showing for the U.S. economy since 1946.

The Friday report followed a 2.2 percent growth rate in the third quarter of 2009, suggesting clearly that the U.S. is out of the recession but not necessarily in the clear.

The unemployment rate stands at 10 percent and hiring remains sluggish. The 2.4 percent contraction was the worst annual number since a 10.9 percent drop in 1946.

But Friday’s report on the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of trade in goods and services, represents a stronger than expected showing. Final sales exceeded expectations, meaning that growth went beyond the expected replenishment of inventory that had been depleted last year and reflected actual new demand for goods and services.