Fed survey finds US economy growing moderately, helped by consumer spending and tourism

WASHINGTON – The U.S. economy was growing at a moderate pace in December and early January, helped by gains in sales of autos and other consumer products, increased factory production and a pickup in tourism in various parts of the country, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

The Fed said business contacts in its 12 regional banking districts were seeing “modest” or “moderate” growth. General merchandise retailers in the New York area reported largely sluggish holiday sales while high-end merchandise in Philadelphia and San Francisco did well.

Payrolls grew in a variety of sectors but significant wage gains were seen only by workers with specialized technical skills.

The Fed report, known as the beige book for the colour of its cover, will form the basis of discussion at the Fed’s next meeting on Jan. 27-28. The Fed at its last meeting in December said it expected to remain “patient” as it decides when to begin raising interest rates.

Many economists say the country’s moderate growth will allow the Fed to stay patient through the first half of this year with June the most likely date for the first increase in its benchmark rate, which has been at a record low near zero for the past six years.

In the new report, based on interviews with business contacts around the country, the Fed did find early indications that the recent sharp slide in oil prices was starting to have an impact on the economy.

The Dallas Fed said that some energy firms in its district were reporting hiring freezes and layoffs. The Atlanta Fed said that the lower gas prices had boosted the sales of larger vehicles but the St. Louis Fed said that some auto dealers in its region were seeing excess inventories of luxury cars.

Various tourism contacts reported a brisk business with Broadway theatres in New York City saying that attendance and revenues were 10 per cent higher than a year ago. Tourism was also reported up in the Richmond and Kansas City regions but ski resorts in the Philadelphia Fed district were struggling to attract visitors in the midst of unseasonably warm weather in December and the warm weather was also having an impact on winter tourists in the Minneapolis region.