Highlights from the Fed’s latest economic survey

WASHINGTON (AP) — The economy has slowed in several U.S. regions for the first time this year, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday. The Fed’s report finds that economic activity grew in all 12 regions of the country, but growth slowed in four districts. It was the weakest survey since last fall.

The survey, released Wednesday and known as the Beige Book, is based on information collected from the Fed’s 12 regional bank districts. The report covers a roughly seven-week period from April 5 through May 27. Here are some highlights:

BOSTON

(This region covers Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and part of Connecticut.)

Economic activity improved modestly. Hiring picked up a bit. Some pharmaceutical firms plan to boost their workforces by 5 percent to 10 percent. But some staffing firms say it is taking companies a long time to fill open positions, with employers “still waiting for the perfect candidate.”

NEW YORK

(This region covers New York and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey.)

Economic activity has expanded, but at a slower pace than earlier this year. Retail sales and tourism improved, while manufacturers struggled with higher prices for raw materials. The tourism industry strengthened, with hotels filling more rooms and charging higher prices. And Broadway theater ticket revenue surged in April. Ticket sales fell back in May but were higher than a year ago.

PHILADELPHIA

(Includes Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

Business activity has improved, but at a slower pace than earlier this year. High gas and commodity prices are reducing consumer spending and squeezing manufacturers’ profits. Nearly half of all manufacturers reported higher energy costs, but fewer than half were able to pass the costs to consumers.

CLEVELAND

(Includes Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.)

Business activity improved moderately. Manufacturers are optimistic about future output, partly because of strong economic growth overseas, which raises demand for U.S. exports. Auto production dropped sharply in April compared to the previous month, mostly because of supply disruptions stemming from Japan’s earthquake.

RICHMOND

(Includes Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington D.C. and parts of West Virginia.)

Economic activity expanded slightly. The manufacturing sector lost momentum and retail sales fell. Home sales varied greatly across the region. A real estate agent in the Washington, D.C. area said the housing market is “terrific” and sales are near their highest level since June 2005. In Richmond, however, sales have dropped sharply.

ATLANTA

(Includes Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.)

Economic activity grew moderately. Retailers reported slower sales due to bad weather and higher gas prices. The tornadoes that hit Alabama and six other states in late April, and the flooding of the Mississippi in May slammed economic activity in the affected areas, but didn’t do major damage to energy or transportation infrastructure.

CHICAGO

(Includes Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois and Indiana.)

Economic activity grew at a slower pace than earlier this year. Auto dealers reported much smaller inventories of Japanese cars, due to production disruptions caused by the March 11 Japanese earthquake. That is pushing up used car prices and benefiting the Detroit automakers’ car sales.

ST. LOUIS

(Includes Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky, and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi.)

Economic activity expanded at a moderate pace. Manufacturing output is growing faster than earlier this year. But numerous casinos on the Mississippi River were forced to temporarily close due to flooding. Telephone call center and health care businesses said they planned to lay off employees.

MINNEAPOLIS

(Includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.)

Economic activity grew steadily. Consumer spending, tourism and manufacturing all improved. Energy and mining activity is up: Oil exploration activity increased in May, and two new natural gas processing plants are planned for North Dakota. Mines in northern Minnesota and in Montana were operating at or near full capacity.

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

(Includes Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and New Mexico.)

Economic activity grew at a moderate pace. Consumer spending increased and the energy industry expanded robustly. Home supply firms reported increased sales, partly due to demand for storm-related items such as roof tiles and decking materials. High farm income has spurred record-high farmland values.

DALLAS

(This region covers Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana.)

The economy expanded at an accelerated pace. Hiring is expected to pick up. Retail sales improved. Drilling for oil is “very strong and growing,” spurred by higher oil prices. Drought is harming wheat and cotton harvests.

SAN FRANCISCO

(This region covers California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.)

Business activity expanded at a moderate pace. Retail sales rose and manufacturing output expanded slowly. Sales growth was strong in the Internet and digital media sectors. But cargo traffic at Southern California ports slowed.

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