All areas of the country show growth, Fed reports

WASHINGTON (AP) ? The U.S. economy started the year off well with busier factories, higher retail sales, more jobs and growth in home sales.

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday that all 12 of its banking districts reported some level of growth in January and the first half of February.

Manufacturing output rose in all districts. Auto manufacturing, steel makers and other metal producers all reported solid growth.

Home sales increased in at least half of the districts, a notable improvement from the Fed’s last report in January. Sales are expected to climb further in four districts. And six districts reported rising construction of apartments.

Some manufacturers did report concerns about Europe’s financial crisis, the Fed said in its report, known as the Beige Book.

The Beige Book is released eight times a year. The findings from each of the Fed’s regional bank districts are all anecdotal; there are no numbers.

The report comes amid other signs that the economy is picking up. Employers have added an average of 200,000 net jobs per month in November, December and January. That has pushed the unemployment rate down for five straight months, to 8.3 percent in January.

Most economists are predicting another big month of job growth in February, based on a steady decline in applications for unemployment benefits and more optimism in business surveys.

More jobs have boosted Americans’ incomes and their ability to spend, a key driver of economic growth. Incomes increased in the second half of last year by much more than previously estimated, the Commerce Department said Wednesday.

Factory production jumped last month and December was their strongest month of growth in five years, the Fed said earlier this month in a separate report. Consumer confidence rose to its highest point in a year this month, as measured by the Conference Board.

Even the depressed housing market is flashing signs of a modest rebound.

Homebuilders are increasingly optimistic after seeing more people express interest in buying a home. Sales of previously occupied homes have reached their highest level since May 2010, one month after a federal tax credit expired. And contract signings to buy a home kept rising in January, suggesting completed home sales will continue to increase.