Economic growth still modest: Fed's Beige Book

WASHINGTON Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:34pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. economy trucked along at a "measured" pace in recent weeks and hiring remained modest, according to a Federal Reserve report that did little to calm concerns about slow growth and high unemployment.

Details from the manufacturing sector were mixed, the Fed said in its Beige Book report on Wednesday. Contacts in five of the Fed's 12 districts reported worries about the outlook for 2013, predicated in part on concerns about a looming "fiscal cliff" contraction in the U.S. government's budget.

"Consumer spending grew at a moderate pace in most districts," the report said, alluding to a generally upbeat outlook for holiday sales from those contacts that offered their views on the key shopping season for retailers.

The U.S. economy expanded at a 2 percent annualized rate in the third quarter, but appears to have slowed in the final months of the year.

The report, which compiles anecdotal evidence on the economy based on the Fed's business contacts, also found few signs of price pressures.

That should give comfort to Fed policymakers, who recently launched a large new stimulus plan aimed at supporting the economic recovery and keeping long-term interest rates low.

In September, the Fed launched a new, open-ended asset purchase program, which started with $40 billion per month in purchases of mortgage-backed securities. It said asset buys will continue until there is substantial improvement in the labor market outlook.

The policy is meant to help the economy broadly and housing in particular, and the Beige Book suggested the sector continues to recover.

As for employment, signs of strength remained tentative.

"Modest improvements in hiring activity were reported by most districts," the Fed said, citing improved conditions for staffing firms.

The U.S. jobless rate rose slightly to 7.9 percent in October. The November employment report will be released next week.

(Reporting by Pedro Nicolaci da Costa; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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