Ten of the Fed's 12 regions reported an increase in economic activity, according to the Beige Book survey released Wednesday. In most places, the Fed described the improvement as "modest or moderate." Only Cleveland and St. Louis reported slower growth.
In March and early April, consumers took advantage of better weather to go shopping. Manufacturing expanded across most of the U.S. Ports and highways were busier. Across most of the country, home prices rose modestly and homebuilding picked up. Tourism was "generally positive." In several districts, ski resorts reported record years.
The Beige Book, which is published eight times a year, is based on anecdotal reports from businesses and will be considered along with other data when Fed policymakers meet April 29-30. Confident that the economy is improving, the Fed has been scaling back bond purchases meant to push long-term interest rates down, encourage consumer and business spending and spur economic growth.
Economists are hoping that growth will pick up as the weather gets warmer. Despite a slow, chilly start this year, the economy is expected to grow 3 per cent this year, the fastest pace since 2005, two years before the Great Recession hit.
"Beneath all the snow and ice — and there was still some in March — the economy is coming back," says John Canally, economist at LPL Financial. "Overall, (the Beige Book) says the economy is poised to reaccelerate."
The job market has steadily recovered. Employers added a healthy 192,000 jobs in March and 197,000 in February. The economy has now regained all the private sector jobs it lost during the Great Recession. On Wednesday, the Fed also reported that U.S. factory output rose further last month, extending strong growth from February after harsh weather had caused production to tumble in January.
Still, the news is not all good. A government report on housing construction Wednesday was weaker than economists had hoped for. And the outlook for homebuilding was clouded by a drop last month in applications for building permits.