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New England adding jobs, but slowly

Slow job growth continues across New England, the Federal Reserve said Wednesday, with the manufacturing and retail sectors reporting gains in sales or revenue, consulting and advertising firms “generally upbeat,” and demand for residential real estate increasing.

The report, known as the Beige Book, is issued eight times a year and uses anecdotal information from interviews with businesses to analyze the economic climate in the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts.

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In the New England district, some businesses expressed concern that the presidential election, domestic politics generally, and the potential expiration of some tax benefits in January could slow hiring as well as demand, particularly in the commercial real estate ­sector.

Leasing activity in the Boston area was down, the report said, largely because of political uncertainty.

Sales of single-family homes and condominiums continued to improve, despite a slight decline in median sales prices.

Properties in “move-in” condition were in the greatest demand, the report said, noting that such properties are receiving multiple bids, sometimes above the seller’s asking price.

Low mortgage interest rates and the increasingly high cost of renting have contributed to the overall uptick in sales.

Retailers said that while furniture sales picked up after having declined this summer and spending on apparel and household items remained strong, they largely expected the nation’s economy to remain flat over the next six to eight months. They were “cautiously optimistic” that their 2012 revenues will end up slightly ahead of those from 2011.

A pick-up in domestic and international business travel has benefited Boston, and 2012 is expected to be the industry’s best since 1999-2000.

In the manufacturing sector, the report said,companies were “somewhat tentative,” which it attributed to the fact that many are engaged in annual planning cycles for 2013.

Officials at one pharmaceutical company in the region said they planned to hire about 1,000 people over the next year, mostly in sales and marketing.

(The Beige Book does not identify businesses by name.)

Meanwhile, other companies said they were “re-evaluating their benefits structures as a way to conserve cash,” ­according to the report.

An unprecedented number of mergers and acquisitions in the health care industry have caused demand for medical consulting services to skyrocket, the report said.

And while health care companies and other firms cited worries about an economic slowdown, none said they anticipated another recession.

Their overall tone was described in the report as “cautiously optimistic.”

Megan Woolhouse can
be reached at
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