Martin Crutsinger

WASHINGTON: A pickup in consumer spending and steady home sales helped lift economic growth in October and early November in most parts of the United States, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday. The one exception was the Northeast, which was slowed by Superstorm Sandy.

Growth improved in nine of the Fedís 12 regional banking districts, the Fed survey said. Growth was weaker in New York, Philadelphia and Boston ó areas where Sandy caused widespread disruptions.

The economy grew modestly in the Federal Reserve Bank of Clevelandís Fourth District since the last Beige Book report about six weeks ago. The district includes all of Ohio and parts of neighboring states.

Hiring was sluggish in most industries. There was stronger hiring in the auto industry and in construction. Staffing firms said the number of job openings has picked up slightly during the past six weeks, with vacancies primarily in manufacturing, information technology, and health care.

Manufacturing orders and production rose. Residential and nonresidential construction activity increased. Existing home sales rose. Retailers and auto dealers saw higher sales in October compared to a year ago. Shale gas activity was robust while conventional oil and gas well output held steady. Coal production remained below 2011 levels. Freight transport volume slowed. The demand for business credit moved slightly higher and bankers saw increased demand for new home loans in addition to refinancing of existing loans.

Hiring increased in more than half of the districts. But manufacturing shrank or slowed in seven regions and was mixed in two others.

The report, called the Beige Book, provides anecdotal information on economic conditions around the country from October through Nov. 14. The information collected by the regional banks will be used as the basis for the Fedís policy discussion at the Dec. 11-12 meeting.

Many economists believe the Fed could announce plans to buy more Treasury bonds at that meeting to replace a program set to expire at the end of the year. The goal of the program is to lower long-term interest rates and encourage more borrowing and spending.

The purchases would come on top of the Fedís mortgage bond buying program, which is intended to lower mortgage rates and make home buying more affordable.

Employers added 171,000 jobs last month and hiring in September and August was stronger than previously thought.

Beacon Journal business writer Jim Mackinnon contributed to this report.