WASHINGTON — Strong auto sales, better hiring and a continued housing recovery helped the U.S. economy grow in January and February throughout the country, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Federal Reserve.
The survey noted that 10 of the Fed's 12 banking districts reported moderate or modest growth, while the Boston and Chicago districts reported slow growth.
Consumer spending increased in most regions, although spending growth slowed in many districts and much of the gains were driven by auto sales. Many districts said consumers pulled back slightly elsewhere after seeing taxes rise and gas prices increase. Some also expressed concerns about federal spending cuts that started on March 1.
Housing markets showed more strength in nearly all parts of the country. Manufacturing grew modestly in most regions after struggling in through most of 2012. And many districts reported improvement in individual jobs markets.
The report, called the Beige Book, provides anecdotal information on economic conditions through February 22. The information will be discussed along with other economic data during the Fed's next policy meeting on March 19-20.
Analysts said the report was slightly more upbeat than the previous Fed survey, noting the modest rebound in manufacturing in the past two months. Jennifer Lee, senior economist at BMO Capital Markets, called the latest survey "more encouraging news on the U.S. economy."
Many economists believe Fed officials will maintain their low-interest rate policies at current levels but take no new steps at the March meeting.
In January, the Fed stood behind aggressive steps it launched in December to try to reduce unemployment. It repeated that it would keep its key short-term interest rate at a record low at least until unemployment falls below 6.5 percent. And the Fed said it would keep buying Treasurys and mortgage bonds to help lower borrowing costs and encourage spending.