US continues 'modest' growth, outlook 'modestly favorable': Fed

Agence France-Presse 

Posted at Jan 16 2020 07:49 AM

US President Donald Trump shakes hands with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He during a signing ceremony for "phase one" of the US-China trade agreement in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US Jan. 15, 2020. Kevin Lamarque, Reuters

WASHINGTON — The US economy showed less-than-stellar growth in final weeks of 2019, but produced solid holiday sales and enters 2020 with a "modestly favorable" outlook, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

On the day the US and China signed a long awaited partial trade truce after months of conflict, the Fed said tariffs continued to weigh on the economy in some regions.

The Fed's "beige book" survey of conditions nationwide painted a mixed picture, with circumstances improving in the Richmond and Dallas regions but lackluster in the Philadelphia, St. Louis and Kansas City regions.

"In many districts, tariffs and trade uncertainty continued to weigh on some businesses," the report said.

However, "Expectations for the near-term outlook remained modestly favorable across the nation."

President Donald Trump last month relieved some of the pressure on American businesses by canceling a planned round of tariffs on Chinese goods, and slashing some others as part of a partial trade deal with Beijing, ending nearly two years of escalating conflict.

The 2 sides signed the deal on Wednesday.

But many of the China tariffs remain in place -- costs borne by US businesses and consumers, which are weighing on investment and growth -- and Trump also has slapped tariffs on European exports including wine, and threatened to do more.

In the Philadelphia region, the looming wine tariffs "prompted an area merchant to stock up with over 35,000 cases" to beat the sanctions and minimize price hikes, according to the report.

Overall economic growth in the area "slowed to a slight pace," it said.

Across the United States, "holiday sales were said to be sold" in the crucial annual shopping period, while tourism was "mixed" and manufacturing -- a sector hit badly by Trump's trade wars -- was "essentially flat" in most areas.

Labor remained scarce, with employers struggling to fill open positions, a trend that now dates back more than a year.

But in the manufacturing, transportation and energy sectors, there were job cuts and reduced hiring.

The Kansas City region was mixed, with strong retail sales and solid performance in the professional and high-tech services industries -- but manufacturing and transport "continued to decline."

Fed policymakers cut interest rates 3 times in 2019 but said toward the end of the year they did not expect to do so again unless circumstances changed substantially.

The beige book report was prepared in advance of the Fed's next policy meeting January 28-29.

Markets overwhelmingly expect policymakers to leave interest rates untouched until November at the earliest.

© Agence France-Presse