(Updates with debt-limit anecdote in sixth paragraph.)
July 27 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve said the economy grew at a slower pace in more parts of the country since the beginning of June as shoppers restrained spending and factory production eased.
“Economic activity continued to grow,” the Fed said in its Beige Book survey released today in Washington. “However, the pace has moderated in many districts.” Growth slowed in eight of the Fed’s 12 regions, compared with four in the last survey, the central bank said.
The report underscores Fed Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s message to Congress earlier this month that maintaining record monetary stimulus is necessary to bolster the economy. Bernanke left the door open to additional action, including buying more government bonds, should the recovery appear in danger of stalling.
“Economic growth has cooled, not collapsed,” said James O’Sullivan, global chief economist at MF Global Inc. in New York. “The Fed is firmly on hold for now. The economy isn’t weak enough to justify another round of stimulus, nor is it strong enough for the Fed to rush toward the stimulus exit.”
With unemployment at 9.2 percent, the “economy still needs a good deal of support,” Bernanke told lawmakers July 13 in semiannual testimony on monetary policy. Today’s report said the labor market “remained soft” in most Fed regions.
The Washington debate over raising the national debt limit caused some concern. Some companies in the Boston region, which weren’t specified, said their sales and the U.S. economy could be hurt should Congress and President Barack Obama fail to reach a deal. In the Dallas region, the survey said that “optimism has been tempered by consumer fear regarding economic and fiscal policy uncertainty.”
The Beige Book survey, released two weeks before each policy meeting, is based on information compiled by officials at the Fed’s 12 regional banks. Today’s report covers June and the first half of July.
Stocks extended losses, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index down 2 percent to 1,305.07 at 4 p.m. in New York. Yields on 10-year Treasuries rose to 2.98 percent from 2.95 percent yesterday.
The Fed districts reporting slower growth included New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Richmond, Cleveland, Dallas and Minneapolis.
Many regions said manufacturing slowed or held steady, according to the report. Consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the economy, showed “modest growth.” Auto sales slowed.
Hours before today’s report, the Commerce Department said orders placed with U.S. factories for durable goods unexpectedly fell 2.1 percent in June. That suggests companies were losing confidence in the recovery as the second quarter ended.
The government will release a report July 29 that may show the U.S. economy last quarter grew at 1.8 percent annual rate, its slowest pace in a year, as higher fuel costs crimped consumer spending and supply disruptions from the earthquake in Japan hurt manufacturing. The estimate is the median of 84 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News.
That pace of second-quarter performance would compare with the 1.9 percent growth in the first three months of this year and mark the worst showing since the economy grew at a 1.7 percent pace in the second quarter of 2010.
In the Fed’s survey, retailers in the Fed regions of Boston, Richmond, Atlanta and San Francisco said sales were mixed, while merchants in St. Louis said sales slowed.
A few retailers in the Richmond region said “mid-price items languished in recent months and customers bargained hard for discounts.” Several clothing stores said sales were flat except for “higher end” items.
In the Dallas region, merchants said sales were up in the “mid-to-low single digits” from a year ago, according to the Fed. Retailers expressed concern about the “elevated level of unemployment” on sales.
Some manufacturers were less optimistic. Automakers in Chicago, while recovering from supply disruptions caused by the March 11 earthquake in Japan, said they weren’t expecting a big rebound. “Given recently lower sales, contacts reported that production would likely recover less sharply than previously expected,” the survey said.
The housing market stayed “weak,” the survey said. New- home sales dropped 1 percent in June to an annualized pace of 312,000, a three-month low, the Commerce Department said yesterday.
The survey also showed few forces pushing up inflation. “Price pressures moderated in many districts,” the Fed said.
Consumer prices dipped 0.2 percent in June, reversing an increase of the same size in May, the Labor Department said July 15. For the 12 months ended in June, inflation was 3.6 percent.
Bernanke told Congress that he expects economic growth to accelerate above 3 percent in the second half of 2011 as energy prices recede and supply disruptions caused by the disaster in Japan end.
Even so, Bernanke said central bankers expect unemployment to decline “gradually.” Fed officials in a June 22 forecast said the jobless rate would drop to between 8.6 percent and 8.9 percent during the fourth quarter.
Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Bank of America Merrill Lynch say the economy will grow at a 2.5 percent pace in the third quarter, down from earlier projections of as much as a 3.25 percent growth.
With projections for economic growth dimming, Cisco Systems Inc., the world’s largest networking equipment maker, on July 18 said it planned to eliminate about 6,500 jobs worldwide.
--Editors: Scott Lanman, Kevin Costelloe
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