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Metro markets mired in modest growth

The Federal Reserve‘s latest “beige book” report states that the economy expanded moderately across the U.S., but the pace of growth slowed in some regions.

The following is a district-by-district summary of economic conditions in the 12 Fed districts for June through early July:

Boston: Increased home sales and commercial construction activity pushed overall moderate expansion. Sales in the retails sector, however, remained flat and manufacturing and business services grew only slowly. General uncertainly about the direction of the economy is making businesses hesitant to hire or invest. “Our contacts use phrases such as “sitting on the sidelines” and “waiting for the uncertainty to play out,” the report said.

New York: Growth in the region slowed since the spring, despite improving labor-market conditions. Retailers, other than auto dealers, showed weaker results, but tourism activity continued to be steady and strong. Bankers report a leveling off in loan demand, but they are seeing further declines in delinquency rates on commercial loans and mortgages.

Philadelphia: Overall business activity improved despite a slowdown at factories. Even still, manufacturers’ expectations for the next six months remain positive and anticipated hiring and capital spending has increased since the spring. “Business contacts express perspectives based on a ‘new normal’ of steady growth at a slower pace than previous expansions,” the report said.

Cleveland: Economic expansion continued, but at a slower pace. Manufacturing output remains above year-ago levels, but some in the sector worry about weaker orders from Europe. Due to uncertain market conditions, many steel producers are in the process of lowering their inventories.

Richmond: Business conditions in the region were mixed. Retailers reported strengthening sales despite end-of-June power outages caused by severe storms. Employment agencies found a weakening labor market and banks are seeing declining demand for loans. However, a banker in western Virginia stated local governments are seeking more financing for capital improvements as federal stimulus funds run out, the report said.

Atlanta: Firms remain “cautiously optimistic” fueling a modest expansion in economic activity. Homebuilders reported increases in sales and prices. The tourism industry experienced steady growth as occupancy and room rates rose, though some are worried about the impact stress abroad has had on international travel, and cruise bookings were down from a year ago. Employment growth was positive, but muted due to uncertainty about the future conditions “and recent economic volatility appears to have exacerbated these anxieties” the report said.

Chicago: Economic growth slowed due to weaker gains for manufacturers and moderating consumer spending. Extreme summer heat and low consumer confidence are hurting retailers. The hot weather, however, sparked sales of swimming pools, fans and air conditioning units. An increase in manufacturers’ incentives on fuel-efficient vehicles and greater fleet sales drove up overall auto sales.

St. Louis: Overall expansion continued at a modest pace and the housing market and commercial real-estate conditions have improved. Small and mid-sized banks saw increased lending activity. The service sector, however, was mixed, as firms in waste disposal and business support services grew, but newspaper publishing, telecommunications and educational services companies all announced plans to lay off workers.

Minneapolis: Increased activity in the tourism, professional services, construction and agriculture sectors pushed overall growth. The region’s farmers continued to benefit from favorable weather conditions. Some tightening was noted in labor markets and wage increases were moderate.

Kansas City: Expanding drought conditions hindered crop development and drove crop prices higher, but the overall economy expanded, helped by increased consumer spending. Automobile sales were strong and the summer tourism season is off to a “solid start” in the region. Manufacturing activity edged up and additional gains in production, orders and capital spending are expected.

Dallas: The region’s economy grew as the housing sector improved and overall energy activity remained strong. Activity in the Gulf of Mexico increased further and the success of a recent auction of offshore acreage “suggests continued interest in the region,” the report said.

San Francisco: Financial institutions reported a small increase in overall loan demand and slight improvements in credit quality, helping an overall modest expansion. The pace of home sales grew, although it stayed well below historical averages. The improvement helped to reduce the inventory of available homes, prompting additional modest expansion of home construction activity.

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