All regions of the country are reporting either slow growth or an actual decline in economic activity, the Federal Reserve Board says.
The bleak assessment in a central bank report known as the "beige book" offered a contrast Wednesday with the bit of optimism generated a day earlier by a separate report.The Commerce Department had reported that the economy, as measured by the gross national product, grew a stronger-than-expected 1.8 percent in the July-September quarter.
However, the Federal Reserve said a survey of its 12 district banks found that higher oil prices are shaking the confidence of consumers and businesses in much of the country.
"Most districts reported that retailers were generally pessimistic. (They) blamed lower consumer confidence brought on by greater uncertainty and higher fuel prices," the central bank reported.
District Federal Reserve banks said economic activity was holding up relatively well in the Midwest and Northwest, but the Boston district reported, "Manufacturers are battening down the hatches."
The report, based on information collected through Oct. 19, was prepared for the Nov. 13 meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets the Fed's monetary policy.
In response to enactment of the budget deficit-reduction package, the central bank on Monday lowered a key interest rate, the one charged among banks for overnight loans, by a quarter of a percentage point to 7.75 percent.
However, economists believe Fed policymakers will be reluctant to cut the rate again soon for fear of further weakening the value of the dollar or adding to inflation pressures already boosted by higher oil prices.
"The beige book shows . . . the process of gradually slipping into a recession, but the tone wasn't urgent enough to cause the Fed to ease policy right away," said economist David Jones of Aubrey G. Lanston & Co., a government securities dealer in New York.