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U.S. economy grows at 4 percent annual rate in second quarter

WASHINGTON – The economy’s strong second-quarter growth showed the recovery has regained momentum after a brutal winter.

The nation’s total economic output, or gross domestic product, increased at a 4 percent annual rate from April through June, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

It was a better-than-expected rebound from an alarming first-quarter contraction and confirmed experts’ assumptions that the dismal performance in the first three months was triggered in large part by severe weather across much of the nation.

“The first quarter was indeed the aberration,” said Doug Handler, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight.

Although the 4 percent growth rate was impressive, marking just the third quarter since the end of the recession that the economy grew at that pace or higher, economists cautioned not to get too excited.

About a third of that growth probably came from consumers and businesses catching up for activity lost in the first quarter. And the figure could be revised down in the coming weeks.

Overall, the economy has expanded at slightly less than 1 percent during the first half.

“While I think we should be celebrating the second-quarter rebound, it’s really not a strong economic recovery,” said Sung Won Sohn, an economist at California State University, Channel Islands.

Still, economists expect growth to pick up in the second half.

The labor market continues to improve, with analysts expecting the government to report Friday that the U.S. added about 233,000 jobs this month. That would be the first time since 1997 that the economy has added more than 200,000 jobs in six straight months.

Payroll firm Automatic Data Processing Inc. said Wednesday the private sector added 218,000 jobs in July. That was down from 281,000 in June and below analysts’ estimates, but it still represented strong growth.

Solid job gains in recent months were an early indication the first-quarter slowdown was an anomaly.

Bitter cold and heavy snow in much of the nation helped cause the economy to contract at a 2.1 percent annual rate in the first quarter.