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The U.S. economy edged up at an annual rate of just 0.4 percent in the final three months of last year, a pace that was even weaker than previously believed, the government said Thursday.

The Commerce Department report on the gross domestic product - the total amount of goods and services produced inside the country - showed that the economy slowed to a near standstill at the end of last year following two quarters of very weak growth.Thursday's GDP report marked a sharp downward revision from a month ago when the government had estimated the economy was growing at an annual rate of 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter.

A weaker showing in international trade and a slower build up of unsold business goods were the major contributors to the downward revision.

Another report Thursday showed that the weak economy was hurting the bottom line at American corporations. The Commerce Department said that after-tax profits fell by 4.5 percent in 1991 to $188.1 billion, the poorest showing for U.S. companies since 1987.

A third report - from the Labor Department - said 15,000 Americans made their first trips to unemployment offices during the week ending March 14, raising new claims for jobless benefits to 447,000. The report said the number of workers filing initial claims for unemployment insurance was up from a seasonally adjusted 432,000 the previous week.

The economic weakness did have a beneficial side effect of lowering inflation. A price index tied to the GDP showed that prices paid by U.S. residents were rising at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the fourth quarter, the best showing on inflation since early 1986.