By MARTIN CRUTSINGER
AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — Hampered by COVID-19 cases and supply shortages, the U.S. economy slowed sharply to a 2% annual growth rate in the July-September period, the weakest quarterly expansion since the recovery from the pandemic recession began last year. The government estimate fell below expectations and would have been even weaker if not for a sharp increase in restocking by businesses, which added whatever supplies they could obtain. By contrast, consumer spending, which fuels about 70% of overall economic activity, slowed last quarter. Economists remain hopeful for a bounce-back in the current October-December period, with confirmed COVID cases declining, vaccination rates rising and more Americans venturing out to spend money.