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Beige Book: Continued expansion seen in late February, March

The FederalReserve in its April 13 Beige Book said that economic activity continued to expandacross most of its districts in late February and early March.

Mostdistricts said growth ranged from "modest" to "moderate," theFed said in its release. "Labor market conditions continued to strengthen,"the central bank added, noting that its Cleveland district was the only one thatreported an overall decline in employment during the period. Still, it noted thata number of districts — Cleveland, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Dallas —saw energy companies reduce their workforces amid the tumult in oil markets.

The energydownturn likely contributed to the "cautious" lending environment in Dallas,which was the only district to report credit conditions had not improved duringthe period. Contacts in the district "also said that loan quality continuedto mildly deteriorate because of ongoing stress in the energy sector."

"Overall,the lending environment remained competitive," the Fed said, as a number ofdistricts noted strong competition for C&I credits and growth in CRE lending.Overall credit quality was "mixed" among its districts, the bank said.

Businessand capital spending also increased in most districts, according to the release,and manufacturing activity expanded in 10 of the bank's 12 districts.