Highlights from the Fed’s economic survey

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that a survey of its 12 banking districts found that they all reported solid growth at the start of the year.

The survey, known as the Beige Book, found that manufacturing grew in all districts, while retail sales and even the beleaguered housing sector picked up in most areas.

The report is based on anecdotal information from the Fed’s 12 regional banks. It is based on information collected between Dec. 31 and Feb. 17.

Here are some highlights:

BOSTON (includes Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and part of Connecticut):

Most businesses are upbeat, reporting similar or better growth than in recent months. Manufacturers are concerned about Europe’s financial crisis and slow growth, but only two say that sales to Europe have actually fallen. Rising demand has forced information technology firms to hire more.

NEW YORK (includes New York and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey):

Manufacturers reported that business has improved since the end of last year. Financial-sector compensation has fallen, with bonuses on Wall Street down 30 percent or more compared to the previous year. Bankers report a big increase in demand for mortgage loans. Commercial real estate markets have improved a bit and office vacancy rates have dipped.

PHILADELPHIA (includes Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey):

New home construction started off the year strong, partly because of warm weather. Auto dealers reported strong sales growth. Manufacturers anticipate rising shipments and orders in the next six months.

CLEVELAND (includes Ohio, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania and West Virginia):

Oil and gas drilling in shale rock expanded. Hiring by manufacturers and energy producers has picked up. A few manufacturers said that growth was being held back by falling demand from Europe. Builders report that traffic and inquiries from potential home buyers increased.

RICHMOND (includes Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, District of Columbia and part of West Virginia):

Tourism businesses posted moderate gains. Hiring improved, though both manufacturing and professional services firms reported problems finding qualified workers. A furniture manufacturer said business has improved, noting that it usually picks up with rising consumer confidence.

ATLANTA (includes Georgia, Alabama, Florida and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee):

More companies reported increasing hiring. Retailers reported higher sales compared to a year ago and auto sales remained robust. Overall home sales and construction remained weak. Attendance for major conventions increased and reservations rose, though there were concerns that high fuel costs could slow tourism.

CHICAGO (includes Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois and Indiana):

Consumer spending growth slowed, though business spending increased. Long-term unemployment remained elevated. Construction activity rose slightly as more apartments were built. Manufacturing output increased as demand for industrial equipment remained strong.

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

Residential real estate activity continued to decline. Retail sales were up slightly compared to a year ago. Most car dealers expect sales to increase in March and April from a year earlier. Companies in information technology services, pest control, health care and leisure plan to hire more workers.

MINNEAPOLIS (includes Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan):

Tourism declined in much of the district because of a lack of snow. Snowmobile dealerships reported a sharp drop in sales. Car sales rose. Repair shops in eastern Montana were very busy repairing oil-drilling-related vehicles. Construction activity was boosted by warm weather.

KANSAS CITY (includes Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and New Mexico):

Manufacturing activity picked up and real estate activity also improved. Lower home prices spurred a modest increase in sales. Retail sales slowed after the holidays because consumers searched for discounts. Oil drilling activity rose because of higher oil prices.

DALLAS (includes Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana):

Hiring didn’t improve much. Construction of new apartment buildings rose at a robust pace. Overall loan demand increased slightly. Demand for semiconductors and other electronic products improved, largely due to greater demand for autos, mobile devices and computer storage.

SAN FRANCISCO (includes California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska):

Retail sales expanded, particularly for retailers of pet products. Sales grew for information technology services providers. Demand for legal services and accounting also moved up. Manufacturers of semiconductors and other technology products reported higher sales.

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