The United States’ economy grew slower than previously thought, said the Commerce Department on Friday.

The advance estimate of the real gross domestic product – the overall measure of economic output of  the United States – was 3.2 percent. The economy actually increased at a lower rate, 2.8 percent, said the Commerce Department.

Businesses were likely to be disappointed by the report. Economists’ median estimate for the revision was 3.3 percent, said Bloomberg News.

“The real story of the fourth quarter GDP was that the underlying demand was still pretty robust,” said Russell Price, economist for Ameriprise Financial, “But large fluctuation in business inventories and crude oil import volumes really made the report.”

An upward revision to exports helped offset downward revisions to government and consumer spending. Imports increased as well, which are subtracted from the GDP.

The economy grew by 2.8 percent instead of 2.9 percent for the whole of 2010. It shrank 2.6 percent over 2009.

Some economists expect continued improvement in consumer business demand, which is fundamental to sustainable economic recovery.

Price estimated 3.1 percent growth in the first quarter of 2011.

“I think we are now at a point where we should see solid improvements in employment growth going forward so long as higher energy prices do not offset the gains we are expecting,” Price said.

While the economy’s momentum has increased thanks to resurgent American consumers, rising oil prices could diminish their effect. Consumer confidence is also up to 77.5, up from 74.2 in January, said the Reuters/University of Michigan Survey. And there is still the problem of people with out jobs. It could be a while before we see some real improvement.

“Employment typically does lag the underlying economy,” Price said.