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Fed reports modest expansion of economic activity in St. Louis region

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 20, 2010 - The Federal Reserve reported that economic activity has expanded "modestly" in its Eighth District, which includes St. Louis, according to the Fed's Beige Book released Wednesday.

Reports from all 12 districts suggested that national economic activity also continued to rise at a modest pace between September and early October.

Click here to hear an audio report by the Fed based on the October Beige Book.

The Beige Book, which is released eight times a year, is based on anecdotal information compiled from community and business leaders who offer their perspectives to the Fed confidentially. The Eighth District includes St. Louis and eastern Missouri, southern Illinois, Arkansas and parts of Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana.

Overall economic increased in both the manufacturing and services sectors, according to the report. Market conditions for the residential real estate market was mixed.

Here are some details from the report:

* Compared to the same period in 2009, August year-to-date home sales were down 4 percent in St. Louis and 2 percent in Memphis, but increased 14 percent in Louisville and 2 percent in Little Rock.

* Manufacturing activity continued to increase overall. Some manufacturers in the district reported plans to open plants and expand their operations, while a smaller number planned to close plants or reduce operations.

* In the services sector, expansion was reported in the restaurant, automotive repair, air transportation support and social services industries. But businesses that support hotel and gambling industries were decreasing activity.

* Dealers reported that sales of new cars were down compared with the same time last year; sales were stronger for used cars.

* Retail sales were reported as "flat" over the reporting period.

* Residential construction continued to improve throughout the district. Year-to-date single-family housing permits increased by 15 percent in St. Louis in August, compared to 2009.

* Activity in commercial real estate and construction remained slow throughout the district.

* Total loans at a sample of small and mid-sized banks decreased 1.8 percent from mid-June to mid-September. Real estate lending -- which accounts for three-fourths of all loans -- decreased by 2.2 percent.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.

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