Fed's Beige Book: U.S. Economy Expanding, Labor Market Tightens

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By Jeffrey Sparshott and Ben Leubsdorf

WASHINGTON--The economy continued to expand into early October despite some uncertainty generated by the upcoming presidential election, a Federal Reserve report said Wednesday, more of the slow growth that could leave the central bank on track to raise interest rates late this year.

The Fed's latest report on regional economic conditions, known as the beige book, said most districts reported modest or moderate growth amid tight labor markets and steady wage gains. The survey collected anecdotal information on economic activity from late August through early October from 12 district banks.

The beige book report comes two weeks before Fed officials gather for their Nov. 1-2 meeting. Most economists expect policy makers to hold off on any move until the final month of the year--a Wall Street Journal survey of economists found 81.4% believed the Fed will raise rates at its Dec. 13-14 meeting.

The central bank last increased its benchmark rate in December 2015. Since then, officials have held steady amid slow growth and an uncertain outlook. Three Fed officials voted to raise rates in September, though the majority prevailed against any move.

"There isn't this tremendous urgency to act on monetary policy right now," New York Fed President William Dudley said last week. "It's not like if we wait a meeting or don't wait a meeting that it has huge consequences for the trajectory of the economy."

One factor generating uncertainty: the U.S. presidential election. Americans go to the polls on Nov. 8 to decide between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton. Control of the Senate, and perhaps the House, also is at stake.

While an apparent concern in some sectors, the beige book report found fairly steady progress across the U.S. economy.

"Labor market conditions remained tight across most districts," the Fed said. "While reports of labor shortages varied across skill levels and industries, there were multiple mentions of difficulty hiring in manufacturing, hospitality, health care, truck transportation and sales."

Wage growth remained modest and price growth mild, the report said.

Elsewhere in the economy reports were varied, with transportation-related manufacturing a bright spot, consumer spending mixed, real estate activity expanding despite low inventories and rising prices for homes, and commercial and industrial lending increasing.

The worst appears to be over for the oil and gas sector, which had been punished by a sharp drop in prices. The farm sector, meanwhile, faced mixed fortunes amid high yields but low commodity prices, the Fed said.

Write to Jeffrey Sparshott at jeffrey.sparshott@wsj.com and Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com.

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This article appears in: Politics , US Markets , Economy

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