U.S. economy: gross domestic product grew at a 3.3 percent in the second quarter

A Commerce Department report released Thursday showed that gross domestic product grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate in the second quarter _ confirming that economic activity was humming along at a respectable pace before two major hurricanes hit the U.S.

But economists say the aftereffects of hurricanes Rita and Katrina are expected to make for rocky business activity in the months ahead.

GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is the best barometer of the nation's economic fitness.

The 3.3 percent growth rate for the April-to-June quarter was unchanged from an estimate made a month ago. That performance met analysts' expectations. In first three months of the year, the economy grew at a healthy 3.8 percent pace, the AP reports.

In the aftermath of the two hurricanes, however, economists are predicting that production and hiring will take a hit, slowing overall economic activity in the second half of this year to a pace of around 3 percent. Before the hurricanes, second-half growth was expected to top 4 percent.

The Labor Department, in a separate report issued Thursday, said the number of Americans thrown out of work by Katrina climbed by another 60,000 last week, pushing the total number of unemployed workers seeking jobless benefits because of the storm to 279,000.

Economists expect economic growth in the second half of this year will be reduced by as much as 1 percentage point as high energy prices crimp consumer and business spending, vital ingredients for healthy economic activity. AM

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