Hong Kong's last taste of the high life before the regional economic crisis hit was reflected in last year's third quarter gross domestic product figures, issued by the Government yesterday. Big spending consumers encouraged by the robust property and stock markets spearheaded the 5.7 per cent growth for the quarter. According to the Government, spending on high-cost items, such as cars and consumer durables, underpinned the result. Performance was down from the first quarter's 6 per cent and the second's 6.8 per cent - the highest since the third quarter of 1992 - but remained buoyant. However, within weeks the full impact of the regional economic crisis was to sweep through the SAR's markets, causing stock market and property prices to plunge. Fourth-quarter growth is expected to dip below 4.5 per cent - influenced partly by the previous year's high basis of comparison - keeping it in line with the Government's full-year 1997 forecast of 5.5 per cent. The preliminary estimates of last year's GDP will be announced on Budget day - February 18. A Government spokesman said: 'A marked slackening in growth was likely to have occurred in the fourth quarter of last year, as the contagion effect of the regional financial turmoil spread to the Hong Kong economy.' During the quarter, Government consumption fell by 0.1 per cent in real terms compared with the same period in 1996. Public-sector construction output dropped by 4.8 per cent following the completion of most of the projects under the Airport Core Programme. This contrasted with the private sector, which surged by more than 18 per cent as the property market boomed. Merchandise export growth moderated, with re-exports rising by 4.2 per cent and domestic exports up by 6 per cent. Total export growth of 4.4 per cent was outpaced by a 7.1 per cent increase in imports. A slump in tourism compared to a year earlier was largely responsible for a 3.5 per cent decline in exports of services. For the year, the combined visible and invisible trade deficit is projected to increase to $36 billion - about 3 per cent of GDP. Inflation growth moderated to 6 per cent compared to 7.6 per cent during the previous quarter. Economists said the third-quarter result was better than expected but warned of the fourth-quarter dip.