Loan demand remained generally strong through much of the country during the past five weeks, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

Borrowing by loan type was mixed, with various Fed regions reporting different results in both commercial and consumer lending. Only the Richmond, Va., and St. Louis Fed banks reported slight declines in overall lending, according to the Beige Book, the Fed's periodic survey of regional economic conditions. It is compiled for the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's monetary policy arm, which next meets Sept. 24.

Bankers reported some deterioration in credit quality and increases in delinquency rates, but they expressed no concern about credit soundness overall.

"Businesses are still active and expanding," said James H. Chessen, chief economist at the American Bankers Association. "Commercial and industrial lending have been a strong driver of bank earnings this year."

The Fed said wages are climbing but prices have not followed. Consequently, data are "inconclusive" on whether inflation is an immediate threat, the Fed said.

John W. Mitchell, senior vice president and chief economist at U.S. Bancorp in Portland, Ore., said the Fed would eventually raise rates but argued that Wednesday's report did not give sufficient reason to act quickly.

"There's no overwhelming evidence of anything that would get the Fed to move," Mr. Mitchell said.

"The Fed left the door open to do anything it wanted," said Nicholas S. Perna, chief economist at Fleet Financial Group Inc., Boston.

Banking-related details by region include:

*New York: Commercial loan demand is weakening moderately, while consumer loan demand held steady in August. Average loan rates were steady, and deposit rates generally rose.

*Chicago: Recent mergers and acquisitions in Michigan have increased the demand for capital equipment-based loans. In other areas, however, business lending has slowed from strong levels this year.

*San Francisco: A strong financial outlook was tempered by pressure on bank margins in Washington, where economic growth is accelerating, and in Idaho and Utah, where bankruptcy filings have risen sharply.

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