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March 5, 2008 5:00 PM, EST

Fed ‘Beige Book’ Cites Freight Slowdown

Tom Biery/Trans Pixs

The U.S. economy has weakened since the start of the year, hitting both freight transportation and manufacturing, both of which are dealing with soaring energy prices, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday.

The Fed’s latest “beige book” report, which it issues eight times a year, was based on information collected from Jan. 7 through Feb. 25.

Manufacturing was sluggish or slowed in about half the districts, while several indicated mixed results. Truck freight volume slowed in Cleveland, while workforce levels fell at a number of trucking companies there, the Fed reported.

Trucking and shipping respondents from the Richmond and Dallas districts reported declining import volumes, which more than offset growth in exports stimulated by depreciation of the dollar.

Freight firms in the Atlanta district reported lackluster demand, and several regional trucking companies cut back operations, the report said.

Services industries in many districts — including port activity in New York and truck freight volume in Cleveland — were slowing, although service activity provided some relief in several districts, the Fed said.