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Mar 4, 2:32 PM EST

Fed survey finds US economy growing at moderate pace


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WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. economy was growing at a moderate pace through mid-February despite severe winter storms that had disrupted activity in some regions, the Federal Reserve reported Wednesday.

The Fed said that six of its 12 regions had reported moderate growth with modest gains seen in most other areas. The Boston district said businesses in its area remained upbeat despite a series of huge snowstorms.

The Fed survey found that consumer spending was up in most districts, travel and tourism was increasing and manufacturing had shown solid gains with aerospace companies in the San Francisco region forecasting a record year.

The information contained in the Fed report, known as the beige book, will be used when the central bank next meets on March 17-18. Economists expect the Fed will not start raising interest rates until June or later.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen delivered the central bank's semiannual economic report to Congress last week and indicated that the Fed is still willing to be "patient" in terms of raising interest rates because of weak wage growth and inflation well below the Fed's 2 percent target.

The beige book found that wage pressures remained moderate and were largely limited to workers in skilled occupations. The report said prices were either flat or rising only slightly.

Most districts reported increases in overall consumer spending with the Minneapolis, Atlanta, Kansas City and San Francisco districts reporting growth in restaurant sales. Economists regard gains in the number of people eating out as a sign of an improving economy.

The New York and Boston districts reported that harsh winter weather had depressed overall retail sales but Boston and Cleveland reported an increase in sales of winter clothing, rock salt and snow shovels.

Auto sales were up in most districts and home sales increased in most districts although housing construction was mixed with some districts reporting disruptions due to the winter weather.

Oil drilling service firms in Minneapolis and Dallas reported reduced demand, reflecting a drop in drilling activity due to the big plunge in oil prices.

Manufacturing showed gains across the country with auto manufacturing up in the Cleveland, Chicago and St. Louis districts.

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