Wednesday, August 29, 2012

US economy growing 'gradually', says Fed report

WASHINGTON: The US economy is growing slowly amid slight improvements in retail sales and the depressed housing market, while hiring held steady, the Federal Reserve said in a report on Wednesday.

"Economic activity continued to expand gradually in July and early August across most regions and sectors," the Fed said in its Beige Book, a key report on current regional economic conditions that feeds it policy decisions.

Retail sales strengthened "somewhat" in July compared with softness in May and June, particularly at discount stores and online.

The pace of auto sales slowed "somewhat," but the Fed noted that it remained significantly above a year ago.

The ravaged housing market was showing signs of improvement six years after a price bubble collapsed.

"All 12 of the Fed's districts cited increases in home sales, home prices, or housing construction" in July and early August, it said.

The jobs outlook, with unemployment stuck above 8.0 percent for the past three years, appeared little changed.

"Most districts reported that employment was stable or growing only slightly," the report said.

Amid sluggish growth and high unemployment, upward wage pressure across the nation was "very contained."

Manufacturers continued to hire in almost all districts, but only "modestly," it said.

Demand has been strongest for skilled manufacturing and engineering jobs, and information technology services.

The Beige Book data will be used by the Federal Open Market Committee at its September 12-13 meeting as it reviews monetary policy.

Market hopes are high that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will give an early signal of the central bank's intentions on more stimulus in his keenly awaited speech Friday in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

The FOMC, at its prior July 31-August 1 meeting, signalled it was ready to provide additional stimulus if warranted by economic conditions warranted.

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