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Beige Book: Several Regions See Slower Economic Growth

Several U.S. regions noted slower economic growth in the last weeks of February but price
pressures remained little changed despite tight labor markets, the Federal Reserve said on Wednesday.

"Most Federal Reserve districts reported modest expansion in economic activity since the last report, but several districts noted some slowing," said the Fed's Beige Book summary of economic conditions.

The New York, St. Louis, Boston and Dallas Feds all reported some degree of decelerating activity, although Philadelphia said that economic conditions had perked up.

The Beige Book is based on reports by the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. It was compiled on this occasion by the Kansas City Fed from data collected on or before Monday Feb. 26, or the day before steep stock market losses last week.

Policy-makers take the Beige Book into account when they meet to consider changing interest rates. Their next gathering is on March 21 and investors bet they will leave interest rates
unchanged at 5.25%.

The U.S. central bank is on alert for inflation pressures amid tight labor markets. But the Beige Book revealed little additional concern, even though most of the districts felt that
skilled and professional workers remained in short supply.

"With rising demand for many types of workers, wage pressures increased slightly in several Districts, although pay increases generally remained moderate overall. Most Districts
characterized price pressures as little changed," it said.

Energy and construction-related materials prices fell, but food input costs climbed in several districts.

The Fed expects growth to gradually recover after slowing in the fourth quarter under the weight of a cooling housing market. The Beige Book nodded to hopes that residential
construction might finally be on the mend.

"Almost all districts reported that housing markets remained weak, but signs of stabilization were noted in several districts. In contrast to the housing sector, commercial real
estate markets continued firm or remained solid," it said.

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