WASHINGTON - The US economy hit a soft patch in the final quarter of 2005, growing at an annual rate of just 1.7%, but the figure was better than the 1.6% rate estimated a month ago.
   The Federal Reserve and other economists say the economy bounced back in the January-March quarter. Analysts predict growth this period will hit 4.5% or higher. Following which, they expect economic activity to moderate to an annualized rate of around 3.4% in the April-June quarter.
   The labor market is also improving, with companies adding 243,000 jobs in February. The unemployment rate of 4.8%, is close to the four-and-a-half year low reached in January.