That’s the bright picture the Federal Reserve sketched in a survey released Wednesday. It said all but one of its 12 banking districts experienced some growth from late November through the end of the year.
Some sectors of the economy, notably housing, remain weak, the Fed said. But consumers spent more freely. Factories made more goods. Americans stepped up travel. And the auto industry enjoyed its best stretch of the year.
Economists noted greater confidence in the tone of the report. For example, the central bank described auto manufacturing as “vibrant” in several districts. Consumer spending was deemed “robust” in the Dallas region.
“It has been quite a while since we have seen the Fed use words like vibrant and robust to describe any part of the economy,” said Brian Bethune, an economics professor at Amherst College. “I think one of the things driving the stronger language is that things are better than the Fed had been expecting.”
The one district that didn’t experience growth was Richmond, Va., although even there, the Fed said economic activity either “flattened or improved slightly.”
The report comes just six months after the economy nearly stalled under the weight of high food and gas prices and supply disruptions from Japan that slowed U.S. manufacturing.
The economy and the job market have both improved since then. And December may end up being the strongest month of 2011. Employers added 200,000 jobs. And the unemployment rate fell to 8.5 percent — the lowest rate in nearly three years.
“The Fed’s report Wednesday confirms what everyone else has been seeing in the economic data from retail sales to auto sales and manufacturing — activity is improving,” said Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.
Most of the Fed’s districts reported holiday sales increased over last year. In particular, New York and Dallas’ districts reported healthy gains. Boston, New York and Minneapolis reported exceptional growth in online sales.
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