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By Lucia Mutikani WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. economic growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter as weak business spending and a wider trade deficit offset the fastest pace of consumer spending since 2006. The slowdown followed two back-to-back quarters of bullish growth and is likely to be short-lived given the enormous tailwind from lower gasoline prices. Other data on Friday showed consumer sentiment jumped to an 11-year high in January. Gross domestic product expanded at a 2.6 percent annual pace after the third quarter's spectacular 5 percent rate, the Commerce Department said in its first fourth-quarter GDP snapshot on Friday Most economists believe fundamentals in the United States are strong enough to cushion the blow on growth from weakening overseas economies.