An assembly worker works on Ford Mustangs on the production line at the Ford Motor Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, Aug. 20, 2015. Reuters/Rebecca Cook

U.S. economic growth slowed significantly in the first quarter of 2016, easing to an annual rate of 0.5 percent, the weakest since the first quarter of 2014.

The disappointing tally came after trade declines owing in part to slowing growth in major trading partners such as China, as well as unfavorable energy prices and currency exchange rates.

The Commerce Department figure, an advance estimate that is likely to be revised, undershot the 0.7 percent growth forecast by economists surveyed by Reuters. The data also showed fourth-quarter GDP growth unrevised at 1.4 percent.

Quarterly US GDP Growth Rate | Graphiq

Robust consumer spending kept the economy grinding forward for the first three months of the year, even as business spending fell 5.9 percent — the steepest fall since the Great Recession.

Estimates early in the year had GDP growth topping 2 percent, but a combination of sinking oil prices and a strong dollar weighed on the U.S. energy industry as well as exporters. The Federal Reserve's rate-setting committee announced Wednesday it would hold its benchmark interest rates steady in the coming months, citing the fact that “economic activity appears to have slowed.”

But the Fed projected that growth would return later in the year as the dollar continues to fall against other currencies and businesses work off excessive inventories.