Fed Survey: Growth Slows Across Much of the US


WASHINGTON - The economy worsened in much of the U.S. earlier this summer, hampered by high unemployment, weak home sales and signs of a slowdown in manufacturing.

A survey by the Federal Reserve, released Wednesday, found that weak consumer spending, slow job growth and tight credit are restraining growth into the second half of the year.

Growth slowed in eight of the Fed's 12 bank regions in June and early July, the report found, compared with the spring. That marked the worst showing this year.

The Fed's survey found that factory output weakened in some areas. That's likely to heighten concerns that manufacturing, one of the economy's few bright spots over the past two years, is sputtering.

Further such evidence came in a separate report Wednesday from the Commerce Department, which found that businesses reduced orders for airplanes, autos, heavy machinery and other long-lasting manufactured goods in June.

Orders for durable goods fell 2.1 percent, the department said. It was the second drop in three months. The decline was driven by a big drop in orders for commercial aircraft. Orders for autos, auto parts and computers also fell. And a key category that tracks business investment plans dropped 0.4 percent.

The Fed's report found that the job market remained weak in most of the 12 districts. Hiring was scant, for example, in the Boston district, except among advertising and consulting firms.

Consumer spending improved, aided by a drop in gas prices, which had peaked at nearly $4 a gallon in early May. But auto sales dropped. Supplies at many dealers remained tight because of disruptions stemming from Japan's March 11 earthquake.

Sales of cheaper goods were strong in the Kansas City district, but sales of many luxury items there remained sluggish, the Fed said.

Droughts and severe flooding weakened seven districts with major agricultural sectors, the report said.

Manufacturing output rose overall. But many districts reported only "steady or slowing" growth, the Fed's report said. Only two districts - Kansas City and Cleveland - reported rising manufacturing activity. Companies in three districts - Philadelphia, Richmond and Atlanta - reported slower growth.

Manufacturers in the Philadelphia region reported a lull in demand, the report said. Companies that make clothing, food, steel and other metals, and electronics reported slower sales, while furniture makers, printers and publishers said demand rose.

The overall dim picture of the national economy echoes recent data on hiring and manufacturing. Economists expect growth for the April-June quarter, which will be reported Friday, will be only 1.7 percent, the second straight quarter of anemic expansion.

In June, employers added only 18,000 jobs, the fewest in nine months. And the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent, the highest in a year.

The report, known as the "Beige Book," is based on anecdotal information gathered by officials at the 12 Fed regional banks. It's released eight times a year and provides an on-the-ground snapshot of the economy. Wednesday's report covered the roughly seven weeks between May 28 and July 15.

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