The U.S. economy expanded at a "modest to
moderate pace" from mid-February through late March, the rate-setting
Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.
In its "Beige Book" report on economic activity in regions across the country, the central bank said that manufacturing continued its expansion in most areas "with gains noted in automotive and high-technology industries."
Manufacturers "expressed optimism about near-term growth prospects, but they are somewhat concerned about rising petroleum prices."
There was "some improvement" in residential housing, with reports of increased construction of multi-family housing, the Fed said. Regionally, the housing sector remained "lacklustre" in parts of the Midwest and the West Coast.
The collapse of the US housing bubble in 2007 helped precipitate the deep 2008-09 recession, and continued weakness in the housing market has continued to drag on the tepid economic recovery.
Business services showed "modest to strong growth" while freight volume was "mainly higher," the Fed said. Retail spending was helped in many regions by unseasonably warm weather.
The Fed said that the near-term outlook for household spending was "encouraging," but cited concerns that rising petrol prices "could limit discretionary spending in the months to come."
Wage increases and other inflationary pressures were "modest," except for fuel prices.
The US unemployment rate dipped in March to 8.2 per cent, though the pace of payroll expansion slowed.
In the Beige Book report, the Fed said that "hiring was steady or showed a modest increase" in many parts of the country. "Difficulty finding qualified workers, especially for high-skilled positions, was frequently reported," the report said.
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