WASHINGTON — Warm weather led to soft holiday apparel sales in the New York, Phila­delphia and Richmond, Va., areas, according to the Beige Book, the Federal Reserve Board’s anecdotal reading of the U.S. economy.

Stronger apparel sales were recorded in the Chicago and St. Louis regions, said the report, which drew on information from the Fed’s 12 districts for the period from Nov. 20 to Jan. 8. Overall economic activity expanded at a modest pace across the country.

“Nearly all districts reported a continued softening in housing markets and high inventories of new homes have generally led to a slowing in residential building,” said the report.

Sales were said to have been “particularly strong in New York City,” though results upstate as well as in northern New Jersey were “more sluggish.”

“Somewhat soft sales of winter clothing and home furnishings and equipment were reportedly offset by fairly strong spending in most other categories, particularly consumer electronics and clothing accessories,” the report said of the New York district.

The correlation between sales and weather was much the same in the Philadelphia district.

“Discounting was widespread during December, although most store executives said the price reductions made before the holidays had been planned in advance,” said the report. “Further price reductions, primarily for apparel, have been taken since the holidays.”

In San Francisco, consumers seem to be developing a taste for higher-end goods.

“Sales growth was especially strong at department stores and establishments specializing in luxury products, with full-price items reportedly selling substantially better than last holiday season,” said the report of the San Francisco region.

This story first appeared in the January 18, 2007 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

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