WASHINGTON — Demand for credit by consumers and businesses continued to show signs of gradual improvement as homeowners looked to refinance their homes and buy new cars, according to a survey released by the Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday.

"Loan demand was steady to slightly up at most district banks that commented on lending," according to the Fed's quarterly economic survey known as the Beige Book.

The New York district noted widespread increases in loan demand, especially for commercial loans and residential mortgages.

"Small- to medium-sized banks report an increase in demand for commercial loans and mortgages," according to the Fed's report.

Meanwhile, in the Cleveland district, bankers said they also saw demand for business credit pick up since the last report in March.

"Although requests originated from a broad range of sectors, commercial real estate and manufacturing stood out," according to the Fed's report.

However, the Philadelphia district said loan volumes had "softened somewhat" — "growing little if at all" — since the last Beige Book, the report said.

"Contacts suggested the lull might be partially explained by the relative dearth of big deals in the wake of the fourth quarter frenzy, plus more immediate concerns for the pending sequestration impacts," according to the Fed's report.

The Richmond district said loan demand had remained relatively stable. Even though some bankers reported a slight rise in demand for residential mortgages, they also noted that demand was flat for commercial mortgages and other business loans.

"An exception was a banker in North Carolina who cited a modest increase in business loan demand driven by the need to replace assets," according to the Fed's report.

In the Dallas district, bankers said they saw improvement in loan demand as energy-related lending remained strong and commercial real estate and home equity lending bounced up from low levels.

"Financial institutions reported broad-based growth in loan demand," according to the Fed's report. "Consumer lending improved, with solid growth in mortgage and automobile lending activity."

Similarly, the San Francisco district said it also saw increased growth in automobile and mortgage loans, which helped to spur overall improvements in loan demand.

A number of districts including Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco, also said loan pricing was very competitive.

Reports on mortgage lending were mostly favorably. Atlanta and New York reported stronger refinancing activity, while the Cleveland and Kansas City Districts noted a shift from mortgage refinancing to new home purchases.

In Atlanta, bankers said competition remained "intense" for high quality mortgage loan applicants.

"Driven by historically low rates, consumers continued refinancing mortgage loans and businesses continued restructuring debt," according to the Fed's report.

Community bankers in Atlanta also noted that large regional and national banks were more willing to offer lower fixed-rate, long-term loans. Many of those bankers also noted that their institution had exited the mortgage business altogether given new regulations.

While several districts reported an uptick in residential mortgage loans, that was not the case in Philadelphia, where mortgage refinancing as a percent of total mortgage fell at many firms, often from as much as 90% to 75%, according to the Fed's report.

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