WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. economy ended last year on an encouraging note, with all parts of the country showing improvements. Factories produced more, shoppers spent more and companies hired more. All those signs point to a stronger economy in 2011.
That's the picture that emerges from the Federal Reserve's survey of nationwide economic conditions released Wednesday. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is optimistic that the economy will strengthen this year, but warned last week that it will take up to five years for unemployment, now at 9.4 percent, to drop to a historically normal level of around 6 percent.
Still, risks loom. Declining home prices and millions of foreclosures are depressing housing markets around the country, the survey says. Rising gasoline prices also could drag on the economy, Bernanke says.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)