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ECONOMIC UPDATE….You will be unsurprised to learn that the fourth quarter of last year sucked:

The U.S. economy shriveled at the end of 2008, shrinking by the most in 26 years….Gross domestic product fell at a seasonally adjusted 3.8% annual rate October through December, the Commerce Department said Friday in the first estimate of fourth-quarter GDP.

….Federal government spending helped the economy….Also preventing the economy from sinking further were inventories, which rose at the end of 2008. On a down note, the inventory increase was likely unintended — the result of companies getting stuck with unwanted merchandise because demand has tailed off in the recession….Inventories increased by $6.2 billion, after going down $29.6 billion in the third quarter and $50.6 billion in the second quarter. Inventories added 1.32 percentage points to GDP in the fourth quarter.

In other words, if not for the unwanted inventory buildup, GDP would have shrunk something like 5.1% or more. Yuck.

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