Fed says economy, jobs outlook imp

The U.S. economy strengthened as the year drew to a close, according to a report from the Federal Reserve on Wednesday that cited rising employment levels across the country.

The Fed’s Beige Book report, based on anecdotal reports collected from the business contacts of the central bank’s regional branches, painted an increasingly bright, if cautious, picture.

While real estate markets, at the heart of the deepest recession in generations, remained predictably weak, manufacturing contacts sounded more upbeat.

The Fed reported better conditions across all 12 of its districts, though banking and financial services showed results that varied by region.

“Economic activity continued to expand moderately from November through December,” the central bank said in a statement.

The findings were consistent with a recent pick-up in U.S. economic data that has prompted some economists to beef up their forecasts for growth in the first half of 2011.

The U.S. economy grew 2.6 percent in the third quarter, a level considered too meek to put a significant dent in the nation’s 9.4 percent jobless rate.