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West registers faint economic gains

The Fed's 'beige book' report shows increased activity in most of the nation.

January 14, 2010|By Tom Petruno

The Federal Reserve's new report on U.S. economic activity in December and early January showed more signs of improvement across the nation.

But if you're out of work in the Western states, the Fed's report, released Wednesday, won't provide any solace: Many employers in the region expect to do little if any hiring in 2010, even if sales rise.

The Fed's so-called beige book report was relatively upbeat on the nation's economy as a whole, noting that 10 of the central bank's 12 geographic districts reported "some increased activity or improvement in conditions." The two exceptions -- the Philadelphia and Richmond, Va., districts -- reported "mixed conditions."

The beige book report for October and November had counted eight districts reporting better economic conditions.

Some of the highlights from the report's chapter on the Western region, which encompasses California as well as Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington:

* "Retail sales improved modestly but remained somewhat weak on net" in the West, the Fed said. "Discount chains and traditional department stores alike reported that holiday season sales were up slightly compared with 2008," but "well below" sales in prior years.

* Upward wage pressure was "largely absent" in the West because of high unemployment.

The report said that most contacts in the region "expect that the pace of productivity improvements achieved in their respective industries over the past year will continue in 2010; they therefore expect hiring to remain subdued for a prolonged period, even if product demand improves."

* Tourism sources indicated that hotel occupancy rates fell in Southern California and Seattle but that visitor volumes rose in Hawaii and Las Vegas.

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