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Beige Book shows progress

By Claes Bell · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Posted: 5 pm ET

When it comes to colors, beige might be the best one to describe this economic recovery: dull, boring, but not nonexistent.

The Federal Reserve's latest Beige Book -- the informal review by the Federal Reserve banks of economic conditions in their districts -- shows broad but measured growth across a broad range of industries.

Manufacturing generally posted modest gains, with automobile manufacturing continuing to drive growth in the Midwest. The renaissance in real estate is also contributing to growth in several industries, including residential and nonresidential construction and building material manufacturing.

Bankers may also be benefiting. Loan demand is increasing in most Federal Reserve districts, and mortgage lending has begun to shift from refinancing to new-home loans.

Consumers have grown somewhat less stingy over the last month, with retail spending in many districts showing "modest or moderate" growth. It's hard to tell where they're getting more spending money, though. While hiring held steady, it was largely in the form of temporary and part-time employment, according to the report. Wages were also largely stagnant.

Congress grills Bernanke

In other Fed news, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke went before the House Financial Services Committee today to deliver his semiannual report on monetary policy.

In prepared remarks, Bernanke appeared to chide Congress for harming the economic recovery through restrictive fiscal policy and warn lawmakers that an ugly battle over raising the debt ceiling could do further damage.

"Risks remain that tight federal fiscal policy will restrain economic growth over the next few quarters by more than we currently expect, or that the debate concerning other fiscal policy issues, such as the status of the debt ceiling, will evolve in a way that could hamper the recovery," he said.

Bernanke also pledged to keep a close eye on economic indicators and adjust the Fed's policy accordingly, rather than follow a rigid time table. Still, Bernanke said that the Federal Open Market Committee expects to begin cutting back on quantitative easing before the end of the year. An increase in the key federal funds rate is likely farther off, with Bernanke saying the FOMC needed to see more progress on jobs before any rate hike.

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell

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