By  on April 26, 2007

WASHINGTON — Apparel sales were strong across large sections of the U.S. in March and early April, even as overall economic activity grew moderately.

The Federal Reserve's Beige Book, an anecdotal reading of the economy that surveys executives across the Fed's 12 districts, said warm weather and an earlier Easter helped boost top lines at some stores, though future consumer spending was in question.

The report, released Wednes­day, sounded some notes of caution about consumer spending, which has been propping up the economy lately.

Retail sales were mixed in Boston. One discount apparel retailer described business as "fine," with a 5 percent increase in same-store sales this year. But the report said of the Boston area: "Retail respondents are cautious in their outlook. Several contacts express concern about consumer confidence. As one contact describes it, 'We have less visibility into where the economy is going.' Respondents also mention concerns with rising gas prices and geopolitical tensions."

In Philadelphia, where retail sales increased, stores expressed similar concerns.

"Several of the store executives contacted for this report said they believe the underlying sales trend is not as strong as the March results suggest," the Beige Book said. "They believe consumers are growing more cautious in their spending in response to rising gasoline prices, the slowdown in house price appreciation and general concerns about overall economic conditions."

The solid sales performance experienced by many was by no means universal.

In the Richmond, Va., district, for instance, sales have been flat in recent weeks.

"The manager at a department store in Virginia Beach, Va., said she deeply discounted the considerable quantity of clothing unsold during recent unusually warm winter months and that sales of other items languished," the report said.

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