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Fed: Winter thaw boosts economy

By Allison Ross · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Posted: 4 pm ET

What's been going on across the United States in the past six weeks or so?

Ski resorts across the country saw record seasons. A pig virus hurt hog farming in several states. Chicago's steel production returned to normal after a fall-off earlier this year.

And the country's economy largely dethawed, rebounding from weather-related slowdowns earlier in the year.

Those are some of the economic anecdotes that the Federal Reserve reported in its latest Beige Book.

It found that the weather began to warm up in many parts of the country, prompting more people out of their home hibernations. Still, it noted that in many areas "lingering winter weather hampered business activity, but the impact was less severe than earlier this year."

Housing mixed

The Fed releases the Beige Book -- so named because of the color of its cover -- eight times a year. The report compiles economic anecdotes from the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks to get an idea of how the country is doing economically.

This most recent report, released today, found mixed results in residential housing markets, with home sales in the Kansas City, Mo., Richmond, Va., and Dallas areas strengthening, while other areas like New York and Atlanta were more mixed.

Chicago reported that home sales and new listings declined, "though brokers attributed this primarily to cold weather and were optimistic that activity would improve in coming months," the report says.

Tourism picks up

Some anecdotes suggested that cold weather had decreased tourism travel, but ski resorts have been having a great year so far, the report said.

New York's famed Broadway theaters saw an uptick in attendance, although that could partially be because of an increase in the number of shows right now. Some districts already were experiencing heavy summer bookings.

Other positive signs

The Fed found that loan demand ticked up in most areas since the previous Beige Book, and manufacturing improved, while the agriculture sector was mixed, "as weather disruptions delayed crop plantings and shipments of commodities."

In general, sales of cars and light trucks picked up in recent weeks "as the weather improved and consumer traffic returned to dealerships," the report says.

The Federal Open Market Committee meets later this month, and it will use the Beige Book and other reports to help inform its decisions on monetary policy. The point of the Beige Book is to offer clues as to where the economy is and which direction businesses, market experts and others think it may be going.

For a primer on the Federal Reserve and what the nation's central bank does, check out Bankrate's page of everything Fed.

How's the economy in your city? Was the Beige Book accurate on activity where you live?

Follow me on twitter: @allisonsross.

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