WASHINGTON — Consumer spending was weak in most parts of the during late summer and early fall, leaving unexciting prospects for economic growth into the rest of 2009.
In a report Wednesday, the Federal Reserve said its 12 districts indicated either stabilization or modest improvements from depressed levels in many sectors of the economy.
While the housing market kept getting better, the Fed's beige book report said consumer spending was listless in most regions, with slower sales in the wake of the government's expired "cash for clunkers" car-rebate program.
"Reports of gains in economic activity generally outnumber declines, but virtually every reference to improvement was qualified as either small or scattered," the beige book said.
The Fed's beige book is a summary of economic activity prepared for use at the central bank's next Federal Open Market Committee meeting Nov. 3-4.
The most recent report was prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and reflects information gathered in September and early October.
In its previous beige book, published Sept. 9, the Fed said the economy kept stabilizing in midsummer but that consumer spending was soft.
The broad measure of the economy is gross domestic product, and consumer spending makes up 70% of GDP.
Philadelphia retailers expect people to limit spending during the crucial holiday season. The Fed report said tourism varied across districts.
"San Francisco reported a deep slide in hotel and resort visits in Southern California and Las Vegas, but noted a continued firming of occupancy rates in Hawaii," the beige book said.
Americans aren't spending briskly because they are busy paying off debt and worrying about their jobs as the unemployment rate sits just under 10%.
"Labor market conditions were generally reported as weak or mixed across districts, but a few encouraging signs were noted," the report Wednesday said. Staffing firms in the Dallas region noted improvement in contract and temporary employment, for instance.
As the economy struggles out of recession, wage and price pressures were generally described as subdued in most parts of the
The weakest sector of the economy was commercial real estate. Banking faltered in several districts, with weak or declining loan demand reported.
"Half of the contacts for Kansas City expected loan quality to continue to erode over the next six months," the beige book said.
Most districts reported manufacturing was generally stronger since the last beige book. And most regions said housing market conditions improved in recent weeks as sales of cheap to middle-priced houses picked up.
"Contacts reported that sales were boosted by the government's tax credit for first-time home buyers," the beige book said. The incentive, however, expires at the end of November.