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Economy Growing Slowly but Surely

By Christopher Maag

The American economy continues to grow at a modest pace, helped by a slight uptick in consumer credit and sales of big-ticket items like houses and cars, according to the Federal Reserve’s latest Beige Book report.

The report, an informal gathering of economic data from the Fed’s 12 regional banks, found slow but steady growth in most sectors. Home sales grew modestly in six Fed districts, and grew significantly in Philadelphia, but housing demand remained soft in New York, St. Louis and San Francisco.

Philadelphia car dealers did about as well as realtors there, the Beige Book found, and auto sales also improved in Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Chicago. With the average gallon of gas costing $3.73, according to the AAA Fuel Gauge Report, car dealers in Kansas City are gearing up to sell more small, fuel-efficient cars in the coming months.“Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest that overall economic activity continued to increase at a modest to moderate pace in January and early February,” according to the report.

Car sales held steady in Dallas, and dropped somewhat in Kansas City, New York, Cleveland and Richmond.

This mixed but generally positive view of the economy carries over to consumer credit, the Beige Book found. Demand for consumer loans held steady in New York, San Francisco and St. Louis, while demand for new mortgages was flat to dropped somewhat in Kansas City.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated this message of slow but steady improvement in testimony before the House Committee on Financial Services on Wednesday. The Fed expects the economy to expand by about 2.2 to 2.7 percent, Bernanke said, close to the level we saw in the second half of 2011.

“The recovery of the U.S. economy continues, but the pace of expansion has been uneven and modest by historical standards,” Bernanke said.

[Related Article: The Secret Bailout? Secret Fed Program Lent Big Banks $1.2 Trillion]
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