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Beige Book shows continued moderate economic expansion

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The economy continues its moderate expansion, according to the Federal Reserve. The first Beige Book of 2011 suggests economic conditions across the dozen Fed districts nationwide were generally better in manufacturing, retail and nonfinancial services than in real estate or financial services during the last few weeks of 2010. Residential real estate remained weak across all parts of the country, and commercial construction was slow or subdued in all 12 districts. The Fed said commercial leasing activity rose in the Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Richmond districts. Most districts reported local housing markets as weak and sluggish with little change from prior periods. The expectation is for continued weakness through 2011. Contacts in all districts pointed to weak employment figures and the slow pace of overall economic recovery for the problems in housing. Kansas City reported a further weakening in housing during the period, and the St. Louis Fed reported additional declines in sales of existing homes although new home construction permits rose. A few districts reported problems obtaining credit further hindered the housing market demand. Elevated home-inventory levels also continue to hurt the pace of new home construction in a handful of districts. Although some districts saw increased construction of multifamily properties. Housing prices in Atlanta, Chicago, New York and San Francisco are being hurt by the level of distressed properties in those districts. The Beige Book gathers anecdotal evidence of economic conditions in the dozen Fed districts nationwide. The Fed will publish the next one March 2. Write to Jason Philyaw.

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