Fed survey: US economy picked up at end of year
The information collected for the Beige Book survey will be used as the basis for the Fed's policy discussion at the Jan. 29-30 meeting. Many economists believe the Fed will take no new steps at its January meeting.
The Fed last month said it planned to keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low even after unemployment falls close to a normal level — which it said might take three more years. And it said it would keep buying $85 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage bonds to try to keep borrowing costs low and encourage more spending.
The economy has shown some signs of improvement, according to recent government and private data.
U.S. automakers finished 2012 with their best sales in five years. The housing recovery has helped lift home prices in most parts of the country. Retail spending grew in December from November, led by higher sales of cars, furniture and clothing. And factory output has increased in the past two months.
Job growth has been modest but steady. In December, employers added 155,000 jobs, roughly matching the monthly average in 2011 and 2012.
Still, unemployment remains high at 7.8 percent. Wages are barely increasing. And many consumers are likely to pull back on spending at the start of the year because lawmakers and President Barack Obama allowed a two-year reduction in Social Security payroll taxes to lapse.
Most Americans will start seeing less money in their paychecks this month. A person earning $50,000 a year will see take-home pay shrink by roughly $1,000 in 2013. That's likely to slow consumer spending and weigh on economic growth.
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