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Retail Jobs in Boston Show Unsteady Growth

Posted on August 9, 2010

The Federal Reserve said the economy continues to grow modestly and points to shaky growth of retail jobs in Boston as proof.

In a press release, the Reserve said economy continued to grow modestly in recent weeks across most of the country, but activity slowed or was unchanged in four of 12 regions, the Federal Reserve said in a report Wednesday that underscored that the recovery has lost some steam.

The slower-growth theme was also reflected in other reports that showed a dip in durable goods orders and rise in unemployment in many metro areas.

The Fed’s beige book pointed to a distinct drop-off compared with its June survey, which showed all 12 districts expanding for the first time since 2007. The new study, which covered mid-June to mid-July, said the economies in the Cleveland and Kansas City areas were unchanged and the Atlanta and Chicago regions were slowing.

“The report underlines that the economy has lost momentum at the midpoint of the year but doesn’t yet suggest a tip back into recession,” Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist at IHS Global Insight, said in a research note.

While recent reports on retail sales, housing and manufacturing similarly have depicted a slowdown, the beige book offers a granular view, with Fed officials surveying businesses and economists in every part of the country.

They found that factories continued to expand but at a slower pace, and that retail sales and tourism generally picked up. But the housing market hit a wall following expiration of a tax credit for home buyers, commercial real estate is still flailing and banks remain tightfisted.

Manufacturing had been the recovery’s biggest spark as businesses restocked inventories depleted in the downturn. That trend largely continued, though the pace slowed or leveled off in the New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Chicago and Atlanta areas. There were bright spots, including auto manufacturing in the Chicago and St. Louis areas and semiconductor production in Boston and San Francisco.

But steelmaking in Chicago and Cleveland tailed off, as did construction-related manufacturing in the Richmond and Dallas regions.

Retail sales strengthened in New York, Philadelphia and Minneapolis but were “mixed” in Boston and fell in Richmond.

At Appalachian Spring in Richmond, which sells handcrafted jewelry and crafts, sales have been volatile.

“I’m not going to predict, because I thought a couple of months ago we were really on a roll — and the next month we missed our (sales) mark,” assistant manager Pat Sedgwick says. “It seems that every other month it turns.”

Retailers generally said clothing, food and other necessities were big sellers but big-ticket items languished. Auto sales, for instance, declined in several key markets. And while tourism was up in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta, leisure travel was down in the Gulf area as a result of the oil spill.