Fed's Beige Book finds gradual pickup in activity (by Greg Robb)
WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - The economy continues to improve but remains well below a robust growth rate, according to the Federal Reserve's latest survey of economic conditions released on Wednesday. Economic activity "increased" but only to a "slow to moderate" rate of growth in most of the Fed's 12 regions, the Beige Book said. Only the St. Louis Fed reported a decline in activity in its region that includes parts of Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee. Like the last report in early October, the Fed said that consumer spending, especially on autos, was a top driver of activity. Tourism also showed signs of strength. The manufacturing sector expanded at a steady pace and service activity rose. Hiring remained subdued, the survey said. There were also reports of an easing of some cost pressures. The report was based on information collected before Nov. 18.