Despite officially moving out of recession several months ago, the US economy shows no signs of sustained expansion, judging by a number of new reports.

The Federal Reserve’s latest state-of-the-nation ‘beige book’ report found that manufacturing activity and consumer expenditure experienced barely any growth in the last few weeks. This represents a slowdown from the modest increases uncovered in the July report.

“Economic activity has slowed in recent weeks,” said the Fed. “Manufacturing activity was sluggish. Most districts reported little or no employment gain in July and August. The retail-sales picture was mixed for the nation as a whole.”

Some sectors, however, are doing well, with strong performances by the real estate and auto markets.

A more upbeat survey was released by IRI, which found that consumers’ expenditure on packaged goods has recovered from the sharp downturn after September 11 last year.

Over the first half of 2002, sales of non-essential products bounced back, with spend rising on personal care (up 4.7%), home care (up 3.1%) and pet care (up 5.4%).

However, Americans’ spending habits are changing, as economic uncertainty encourages more people to eat in and shop at budget stores such as Wal-Mart, whose sales jumped 13.6% in the first half.

Such changes tally with a survey from NPD Fashion World, which found that September 11 greatly exacerbated an existing decline in use of shopping malls.

According to the study, mall traffic is down 10% on last year. Consumers make an average of 39 shopping trips annually, down from 43 five years ago, with the average length of trip falling from two-and-a-half hours to just over an hour.

Data sourced from: multiple sources; additional content by WARC staff