Fed says economy growing despite harsh winter

Monthly Retail Sales Data Shows Strong January

Amid a harsh winter and a mixed bag of data, most Federal Reserve districts reported a expanding economy and a prevailing sense of optimism.

Jobs gained across a variety of sectors, though wage pressures were muted, according to the March summary of economic forecasts the Fed compiled in its Beige Book of indicators.

The weather did take some toll. Boston and New York both reported an impact on retail spending, though ironically the Minneapolis region saw sales off due to the warmer than expected season. Even in Boston, though, the mood was “fairly upbeat this period, notwithstanding the severe weather.”

Construction also took a hit from the snow, ice and bitterly cold temperatures, while energy producers said the slump in oil prices would affect capital expenditures.

Inflation remained in check, even outside gas prices, which have risen over the past several weeks after sliding in 2014. Wage gains remain muted, despite the Fed’s efforts to drive inflation and full employment.

“Payrolls remained stable or expanded across the districts, and contacts noted employment gains in a broad range of sectors,” the Fed statement said. “Wage pressures remained moderate and were limited largely to workers in skilled occupations. Most District contacts cited only flat to slightly increasing prices.”

The Beige Book is a periodic look at the Federal Reserve’s assessment of economic conditions. The report comes out eight times a year.

Recent reports have reflected optimism about economic conditions, though the January report reflected worry over the impact that falling gas prices would have on energy companies and hiring.

Jeff Cox

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