Fed Beige Book says economy growing at ‘modest to moderate’ pace

The U.S. economy maintained a “modest to moderate pace” of growth in recent weeks, bolstered by industries from housing to manufacturing, the Federal Reserve said today.

“Residential real estate and construction activity increased at a moderate to strong pace in all reporting districts,” the Fed said in its Beige Book business survey, which is based on anecdotal reports from its 12 regional banks. “Manufacturing expanded in most districts since the previous report.”

Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke told Congress today that central bankers will be “responding to the data” as they decide when to start reducing their $85 billion monthly pace of asset purchases. Today’s Beige Book, prepared for their next gathering in Washington on July 30-31, will be one piece of evidence they consider.

“Hiring held steady or increased at a measured pace in most districts, with some contacts noting reluctance to hire permanent or full-time workers,” the report said. Fed officials are closely monitoring the labor market to determine whether it has “improved substantially,” allowing them to wind down their bond purchases.

“Banking conditions generally improved,” according to today’s report, compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis and based on information received by July 8. “Credit quality improved, while credit standards remained largely unchanged.”

Previous Report

The previous Beige Book, released June 5, used the same phrase as today’s report, a “modest to moderate pace,” to describe growth across 11 of 12 districts. The 12th district, Dallas, reported “strong” economic growth in the previous report.

“Hiring increased at a measured pace in several districts, with some contacts noting difficulty finding qualified workers,” the Fed said in the June 5 report.

Employers added 195,000 jobs in May and June and 199,000 in April, according to July 5 data from the Labor Department. Even as job growth has picked up, the unemployment rate has remained at 7.6% for three of the past four months.

Fed officials predict growth will accelerate in the second half of 2013 and next year.

“My colleagues and I projected that economic growth would pick up in coming quarters, resulting in gradual progress toward the levels of unemployment and inflation consistent with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate to foster maximum employment and price stability,” Bernanke said today in testimony to the House Financial Services Committee.

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