US economy still sluggish: Fed's Beige Book
By Veronica Smith, AFPWASHINGTON -- The U.S. economy chugged along at a lackluster pace in recent weeks, according to a Federal Reserve report that left little reason to believe the Fed will abandon its loose monetary policy any time soon.
March 8, 2013, 1:28 pm TWN
“Economic activity generally expanded at a modest to moderate pace,” the Fed's Beige Book said, reporting a survey of conditions across the Fed's 12 districts.
Ten of the districts characterized economic expansion in those terms, while activity was slower in the Boston and Chicago districts.
The report cited government actions, such as the Jan. 1 payroll tax increase and health-care reforms under the Affordable Care Act, as weighing on consumer spending — crucial because it accounts for 70 percent of economic output.
“Most districts reported expansion in consumer spending, although retail sales slowed in several districts,” the report said.
“Many district contacts commented on the expired payroll tax holiday and the Affordable Care Act as having restrained sales growth.”
The ACA, enacted in 2010 and being phased in, was spearheaded by President Barack Obama to help rein in health care costs, a prime driver of the nation's yawning deficit and debt.
Commonly known as Obamacare, the law penalizes employers that fail to provide affordable health insurance coverage.
The Beige Book, based on contacts with business leaders, covered the mid-January through Feb. 22 period.
Growth was helped by robust auto sales, an improving housing market, and tourism.
The manufacturing sector improved in almost all districts “but the majority noted that the pace of recovery was slow.”
The report showed the troubled jobs market was picking up somewhat, even as entrenched high unemployment remained the central bank's overriding concern for the vitality of the world's largest economy.
“Labor market conditions generally improved, although several districts reported restrained hiring,” the report said, noting that many districts had reported a rise in temporary employees.
“Employers in several districts cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff,” it said.