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GDP GROWTH OF 3.9% SHOWS U.S. ECONOMY IS IMPROVING

The economy -- helped out by more brisk consumer and business spending -- grew at an annual rate of 3.9 percent in the third quarter, a performance that was stronger than previously thought.

The new reading on gross domestic product, which is based on additional data, was up from the 3.7 percent growth rate first estimated for the July-to-September quarter, the Commerce Department reported today.

GDP measures the value of all goods and services produced within the United States and is considered the broadest barometer of the economy's health.

The 3.9 percent growth rate registered in the third quarter represented a pickup from the second quarter's 3.3 percent pace and marked the best showing since the opening quarter of this year.

The main reasons for the third-quarter improvement: stronger consumer spending, which grew at the fastest clip since the end of 2001, and more robust business investment in equipment and software. Better growth in U.S. exports also helped.