The U.S. economy slowed down in the final months of 2012, with the gross domestic product shrinking for the first time in three and a half years.
The White House said the slide -- the GDP edged down 0.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 -- came "amid signs that Hurricane Sandy disrupted economic activity and federal defense spending declined precipitously, likely due to uncertainty stemming from the sequester."
Federal defense purchases declined at an annual rate of 22.2 percent in the fourth quarter -- the largest quarterly decline in 40 years, said Alan Krueger, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.
"A likely explanation for the sharp decline in federal defense spending is uncertainty concerning the automatic spending cuts that were scheduled to take effect in January, and are currently scheduled to take effect on March 1st," Krueger wrote in a White House blog posting.
Republicans seized on the numbers, noting in an email to reporters that Obama in his inaugural address last week "told Americans that 'an economic recovery has begun.' "