Fed reports slowing US economic activity due to virus surge

FILE- In this Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020, file photo, customers browse while shopping for books at the Strand Bookstore, an independent family owned bookstore founded in 1927 in New York. A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the country found that economic activity in several regions was slowing in November as coronavirus cases surged. The report, released Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2020, and known as the beige book, will be used by Fed officials when they hold their last meeting of the year on Dec. 15-16 to discuss possible changes to the central bank's interest-rate policies.. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

WASHINGTON – A Federal Reserve survey of business conditions around the country found that economic activity in several regions slowed in November as coronavirus cases surged.

The Fed report released Wednesday said that overall, the Fed's 12 regional banks characterized the economic expansion as “modest or moderate." But it noted that three Midwest regions and the Philadelphia region reported activity had begun to cool in early November as COVID-19 cases surged.

Four districts reported “little or no growth” during November, while five others reported that activity remained well below pre-pandemic levels in some sectors.

Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist for Oxford Economics, said the latest Fed survey showed the recovery continues to be uneven across many sectors of the economy.

The report said that among the sectors doing better were manufacturing, housing construction and existing home sales. But banks said there had been deterioration in their loans, particularly those to retailers and the leisure and hospitality industries.

The report said that most districts found that local businesses' optimism has “waned,” with many citing concerns about the wave of virus cases and renewed lockdown restrictions. The report also said there was concern about the looming expiration dates for government support programs, including extended unemployment benefits and the moratoriums that have been in place on evictions and foreclosures.

The report, known as the beige book, will be used by Fed officials when they hold their last meeting of the year on Dec. 15-16 to discuss possible changes to the central bank's interest-rate policies.

In response to the deep recession brought on when the virus struck with force in March, the Fed slashed its key interest rate to a record low and began buying billions of dollars in Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to put downward pressure on long-term rates.