By John S. McClenahen From July through September of this year, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 4%, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Dec. 22. It was the departments third and final read of third-quarter GDP. It's initial estimate was 3.7%; it's interim figure was 3.9%. Lower imports, says Merrill Lynch & Co., were the major reason for the third quarters upward rate revision. (Imports are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP.) The U.S. economy expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.5% during the first quarter of 2004 and at a rate of 3.3% in the second quarter. Economists generally expect data to show a rate of about 3.5% for the fourth quarter. The Commerce Departments first estimate for fourth-quarter 2004 GDP is scheduled to be released on Jan. 28, 2005. A third-quarter weather footnote: Profits from current production were cut by about $79.5 billion by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.