By  on October 13, 2006

WASHINGTON — U.S. economic activity expanded during the five weeks ended Oct. 2, though growth across much of the country was seen as "moderate or mixed," according to the Federal Reserve Board's Beige Book.

The anecdotal look from the Fed's 12 districts, released Thursday, showed consumer spending generally quickened during the period and the labor market remained "taut."

"Solid back-to-school sales helped boost retail revenues in the Philadelphia, Atlanta and Minneapolis districts," the report said. "Sales of upscale merchandise picked up in the New York district, while apparel sales grew more quickly in the Boston, Cleveland and San Francisco districts."

Some retailers seem to have benefited from the drop in gasoline prices; a gallon of regular was selling for $2.25 Thursday, 36 cents less than a month earlier, according to the American Automobile Association.

In the Philadelphia district, retailers said sales improved through September and beat expectations with the help of "extensive" promotions.

"Looking ahead, area retailers are uncertain whether the recent pace of growth will be sustained," said the report. "They say consumer confidence is fragile and that shoppers' willingness to spend will depend crucially on the course of gasoline prices and the stability of housing values."

The approaching winter makes heating oil prices a concern, as well.

In Boston, the report said, "Many retailers are wary about the effect of the real estate market downturn and high energy prices on consumers as winter approaches."

In the New York region, same-store sales rose 2 percent to 10 percent compared with a year ago, and sales of apparel and accessories were robust, but sales of furniture and home goods lagged.

In the Chicago area, retailers said cool weather helped apparel sales and that lower gasoline prices "had only a modest impact."

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