Worst of the US Recession May Have Passed: Fed Beige Book

The economy's sharp slide eased in the late spring and hopes for future business activity improved, suggesting that the worst of the recession has passed, a Federal Reserve report said.

Car Factory Employees
Car Factory Employees

The so-called Beige Book, a snapshot of economic conditions around the US, said five of the Fed's 12 regions reported that the "downward trend is showing signs of moderating."

In addition, "several" regions said that their expectations of future business activity have improved, although they don't see a "substantial increase" through the end of the year, according to the Fed report.

Altogether the assessments of businesses on the front lines of the economy appeared to be slightly better than those they provided in the previous report issued in mid-April.

The Fed survey is consistent with observations made by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and other central bank officials that the recession, which started in December 2007 and is now the longest since World War II, is loosening its strong hold on the economy.

Many analysts predict the economy is sinking at a pace of between 1 percent to 3 percent in the current quarter. If they are right, that would mark a big moderation from the steep declines seen since last fall.

The economy shrank at a pace of 6.3 percent in the final quarter of last year, the most in a quarter-century, then by 5.7 percent in the first three months of this year. It marked the worst six month performance in 50 years.

The survey's findings will figure into discussions when Bernanke and his colleagues meet next on June 23-24.

Economists have mixed opinions on whether the Fed will take additional action to bolser the economy at that time. Some believe the Fed will move to increase its purchases of government bonds in a bid to drive down rates on mortgages and other consumer debt.

The goal: spur Americans to buy more, which would aid the economy.