Fed: Strong housing, auto sales boost U.S. economy

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WASHINGTON A strengthening housing recovery and robust auto sales contributed to moderate growth across the U.S. in late February and March, according to a Federal Reserve survey.

All of the Fed's 12 banking districts grew moderately and growth accelerated in two districts New York and Dallas from January and early February.

"Most districts noted increases in manufacturing activity since the previous report," the Fed said in its "Beige Book" report, which is released eight times a year. "Particular strength was seen in industries tied to residential construction and automobiles, while several districts reported uncertainty or weakness in defense-related sectors. Consumer spending grew modestly, and firms in some Districts cited higher gasoline prices, expiration of the payroll tax cut, and winter weather as factors restraining sales growth."

The survey suggests the economy performed better in March than recent government data on hiring and consumer spending indicated. That could mean the weakness may be temporary.

The Fed survey, which is based on anecdotal reports, found hiring was unchanged or improved slightly compared with the previous report. And it noted that consumer spending grew modestly. But the report also said higher taxes and a spike in gas prices slowed sales.

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