Beige Book: U.S. economic activity picks up

The U.S. economy picked up across much of the country last month, boosted by auto and home sales, even as the outlook for unemployment showed few signs of improvement, the Federal Reserve said. "Economic activity has expanded since the previous Beige Book report, with all 12 districts characterizing the pace of growth as either modest or moderate," the central bank said Wednesday in its Beige Book business survey, which is based on reports from the Fed's district banks. Still, the report said that "labor market conditions remained mostly unchanged in all districts."

Inflation still quiescent, price index shows

The cost of living was little changed in December, capping the third-smallest annual gain in the past decade, indicating U.S. inflation remains at bay. The unchanged reading in the consumer price index matched the median estimate of 83 economists surveyed by Bloomberg and followed a 0.3 percent drop the prior month, Labor Department data showed. Costs rose 1.7 percent in 2012, down from a 3 percent increase in 2011. The core index, which excludes volatile food and energy costs, climbed 0.1 percent for the fifth time in the last six months. For 2012, core prices rose 1.9 percent compared with a 2.2 percent advance in 2011.

Factory output strengthened to end 2012

Industrial production in the U.S. climbed for a second month in December as demand picked up for capital equipment, showing factories strengthened entering 2013. Output at factories, mines and utilities rose 0.3 percent, matching the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey, after a revised 1 percent November gain, data from the Federal Reserve showed. The December figure was restrained by the biggest plunge in utility output in almost six years, reflecting warmer weather. Manufacturing, which makes up 75 percent of all production, grew 0.8 percent, more than forecast.

Two more to add $557M to mortgage kitty

Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley agreed to offer a $557 million package of cash and other assistance for mortgage borrowers to settle a federal probe into allegations that the banks improperly seized homes. The sum includes $232 million in direct payments to more than 220,000 borrowers and $325 million in assistance such as loan modifications, the Federal Reserve said in a statement. The deal adds to the $8.5 billion settlement announced last week among the Fed, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and 10 of the biggest U.S. lenders, including JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc.

RIM ramps up for BlackBerry 10 release

Research In Motion, which is preparing to unveil its BlackBerry 10 phones later this month, said more than 1,600 North American businesses have registered for a training program for the new handsets and software. Of the registered customers, more than 1,000 have already begun using the BlackBerry 10 Ready program since its introduction in early December, said Bryan Lee, RIM's senior director of enterprise accounts. RIM will debut the first of the BlackBerry 10 models Jan. 30 before putting them on sale in February and March.

U.S. oil production is the highest since 1993

U.S. oil production climbed to the highest level in 20 years as improved drilling techniques boosted exploration nationwide and reinforced a shift toward energy independence. The Energy Information Administration reported that output rose 0.6 percent to 7.04 million barrels a day in the week ended Jan. 11, the highest level since January 1993. Production was up 23 percent from a year earlier. The nation met 83 percent of its energy needs in the first nine months of 2012, on pace to be the highest annual rate since 1991, according to the EIA, the statistical arm of the Energy Department.