Economic growth 'slight,' manufacturing 'weak,' but autos, housing gain: Fed

Federal Reserve officials painted a mostly uninspiring picture in their latest economic assessment, calling growth overall "slight" or "moderate" across most of the country.

Overall, the Fed's 12 districts did report strength in real estate and housing. However, manufacturing in recent days has been "weak" and retail sales "mixed," according to the latest Beige Book account.

District observers blamed much of the weakness on a West Coast port strike, inclement weather and lower oil prices. There were oil-related layoffs across several districts and only "modest" or "moderate" wage pressures.

Manufacturing profits were "down significantly."

"Demand for manufactured products was mixed during the current reporting period," the report said. "Weakening activity was attributed in part to the strong dollar, falling oil prices and the harsh winter weather."

The report comes amid sharply diminished expectations for first-quarter growth. The Atlanta Fed's GDPNow tracker has gross domestic product for the U.S. economy gaining just 0.2 percent for the period, though that has seen a slight uptick in recent weeks.

On the employment front, companies reported having problems finding skilled workers.

Retail sales, though, got a lift from better weather and low energy costs. Auto sales and travel also rebounded from the winter weather.

Services firms, particularly those with a tech orientation, were fairly positive. East Coast ports reported gains because of the West Coast port strike.

Perhaps most importantly, signs began to emerge that consumers were spending the savings they reaped from falling energy prices.

Banking conditions were "positive" while agriculture "slightly worsened."