WASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy grew at a surprising annual rate of 2.7% in the third quarter, bringing production of goods and services to slightly above prerecession levels after a year and a half of sluggish growth, the Commerce Department reported yesterday.

But a separate report issued yesterday by the Conference Board Inc. said consumer confidence tumbled in October for the fourth straight month on continuing worries over the economy and the outlook for the future. The index compiled by the New York-based business organization plunged from 57.3 to to 53.0, the lowest reading since February.

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