- - Wednesday, November 30, 2011

FEDERAL RESERVE

Survey: Most areas see slow-to-moderate growth

The economy expanded at a slow-to-moderate pace in most areas of the country during the past two months, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Wednesday. A modest pickup in consumer spending, tourism and manufacturing drove the growth.

The Fed said economic conditions improved in all but one of its 12 bank districts. The one exception was the St. Louis District, where conditions declined.

Even with the growth, hiring was weak in most areas. And businesses in six of the Fed regions said they had a hard time finding qualified workers for those jobs that were open, particularly for high-skill manufacturing and tech jobs.

Roughly 14 million people were unemployed in October.

The report, known as the Beige Book, covered the period from Oct. 8 through mid-November. The Fed’s last survey said most areas reported slight improvement in September and early October. But several regions said businesses had grown more cautious and were holding back on spending.

The economy grew at an annual rate of 2 percent after nearly stalling in the first six months of the year. Recent data suggest slightly better growth in the final three months of the year.

EUROPE

IMF head denies talks with Spain, Italy

MEXICO CITY — IMF head Christine Lagarde on Wednesday denied rumors that the lending body was in negotiations with Italy and Spain about the eurozone crisis, but said it was standing ready for requests for aid.

“We have had no discussions whatsoever with Italy and Spain to negotiate any kind of problem. I hear some wonderful rumors. … I can tell you that there is no such plan under way,” the head of the International Monetary Fund said at a news conference in Mexico City.

“We stand ready to help, not just countries of the eurozone but also those that we call the crisis bystanders,” said the IMF chief during a two-day visit to Mexico.

She lauded the announcement by the world’s biggest central banks Wednesday to provide banks with funds and prop up the global financial system in the face of the eurozone crisis.

“The IMF can only welcome such concerted actions. When central bankers take decisive, concerted actions it’s usually extremely efficient, well received by the markets and produces immediate effects and this is what we’re seeing,” she said at a conference also attended by Mexican central bank chief Agustin Carstens and Finance Minister Jose Antonio Meade.

TAX REFUNDS

IRS advertises $153M in undelivered refunds

The Internal Revenue Service has $153 million in undelivered tax refund checks looking for the right homes.

The agency says there are 99,123 taxpayers to whom the checks weren’t delivered because it had the wrong mailing address. The returned checks average $1,547 apiece.

It’s an annual exercise for the IRS, which has been nudging taxpayers toward accepting their refunds through direct, electronic deposits to their bank accounts. Out of the nearly 103 million refunds the IRS issued through early June this year, 76 million were direct deposits.

Of those delivered by mail, about 0.3 percent bounced back to the IRS because of return address problems.

Taxpayers hoping to claim their refund can click on the “Check on Your Refund” link at www.irs.gov or call 800/829-1954.

COSMETICS

Campaign gets firms to make safer makeup

TRENTON, N.J. — More than 400 companies selling cosmetic and other personal care products have removed potentially hazardous chemicals from them after a seven-year campaign by a large coalition of consumer, health and environmental groups.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics said Wednesday that those companies — all fairly small and in the industry’s “natural products” niche — have met all or nearly all of its goals to make items from soaps and shampoos to cosmetics and aromatherapy safer for U.S. consumers.

The coalition of about 150 groups worked with the companies to get them to remove substances banned by health authorities in other countries, particularly chemicals linked to cancer and birth defects and preservatives that release formaldehyde, which can cause cancer as well as burn the eyes, nose and throat. The coalition also pushed for companies to list all ingredients in their products, which many companies don’t do.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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