Fed report finds US economy growing modestly

WASHINGTON, District of Columbia (AFP) - The United States (US) economy grew at a "modest to moderate" pace in recent weeks, with the housing market and construction improving nationwide, the Federal Reserve said in a report on Wednesday.

The Beige Book's overall assessment of the US economy was unchanged from the June 5 report.

"Overall economic activity continued to increase at a modest to moderate pace since the previous survey," said the report covering late May through July 8.

The rebounding housing market continued to be a bright spot in the recovery.

"Residential real estate and construction activity increased at a moderate to strong pace in all reporting districts," the report said.

Most of the Fed's 12 districts reported a pick-up in manufacturing, consumer spending and auto sales, while hiring "held steady or increased at a measured pace", the report said.

The Beige Book is used by Fed policymakers to frame monetary policy decisions.

Based on anecdotal information gathered in the central bank's 12 districts, the report is published eight times a year roughly two weeks ahead of Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings.

The FOMC is scheduled to meet on July 30 and 31. At its June meeting, the FOMC kept its stimulus programme locked in place, saying unemployment remains high and growth was curbed by sharp federal spending cuts.

The latest Beige Book said that manufacturing activity had increased in almost all districts, boosted in part by "strong demand in residential construction" and automobile production.

Consumer spending - which accounts for two thirds of US economic activity, overall increased but there were pockets of retail softness, particularly in the New York region.

An unusually wet June appeared to damp down consumer spending and tourism in the eastern half of the country, according to contacts surveyed.

But the picture on the slowly recovering jobs market highlighted deep woes.

Contacts in the Philadelphia, Richmond and Chicago districts noted a "reluctance to hire permanent or full-time workers", the report said.

And in the Richmond and Chicago districts, there was stronger demand for part-time workers.

"Wage pressures remained limited or contained" in most districts, the report said.

The Fed has made the reduction of high unemployment, which stood at 7.6 per cent last month, an overarching goal of its stimulus programme.

US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated on Wednesday that the Fed stimulus could be wound down next year if economic growth remains steady as forecast.

But with unemployment still high and falling slowly and inflation very low, he said, "a highly accommodative monetary policy will remain appropriate for the foreseeable future."