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Economy improved over past month, Fed says

The U.S. economy continued its expansion over the past month as hiring increased, though consumer spending levels were mixed, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

The U.S. economy continued its expansion over the past month as hiring increased, though consumer spending levels were mixed, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

"Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts generally paint a picture of continued economic growth from mid-October to mid-November, with a number of areas improving," the U.S. central bank said in its "beige book" report.

The report, which takes its name from the color of its cover, gives an anecdotal view of U.S. economic conditions from the perspective of the Fed's regional banks. It is issued about two weeks before the central bank's policy-making panel, the Federal Open Market Committee, is to meet.

Several regions reported improved labor market conditions. Hiring levels increased in recent weeks, the Fed said, noting signs of worker shortages in fields including the accounting, construction and the energy industries.

However, consumer spending was uneven in the period, with many regions reporting flat or slower sales. The Fed said high energy prices might have skewed spending.

"Retailers in the Dallas, Kansas City and New York districts reported that demand for premium merchandise has been noticeably stronger than that for lower-priced lines, with some contacts suggesting that lower-income households might have been more greatly affected by high energy prices," it said.

Increased prices were reported affecting businesses across the country, particularly in energy, transportation, food and petroleum-based products. Still, the Fed said there was little change in retail prices in recent weeks.

Home prices softened slightly in some markets, the Fed said, though overall residential real estate activity remained robust. Residential lending was mixed, with higher mortgage demand in the Chicago and Philadelphia districts and lower demand in Dallas, New York and San Francisco.

Business lending strengthened in many regions, the Fed said, and manufacturing and service sector activity increased across the country.

It also said many agricultural producers were expecting large or record crops this year, and energy-related activities remained strong.

Wednesday's report was prepared by the Dallas Fed with information collected before Nov. 22. It will be reviewed at the FOMC's Dec. 14 meeting, when analysts widely expect the Fed to raise short-term interest rates to temper inflation.