Severe winter weather hit US economic activity in January and early February, but the outlook in most areas "remained optimistic", the Federal Reserve's Beige Book survey said Wednesday. The regional review, which is used by Fed officials to set monetary policy, confirmed that unusually harsh winter storms had hit manufacturing, retail and auto sales and construction in a number of areas, contributing to sluggish growth data. Growth was just "modest to moderate" across eight of the 12 Fed regions, while stable in one and slower in three: New York, Philadelphia and Chicago -- all of which were battered with intense snowstorms during the period. Employment levels continued to increase in most areas, while price and wage pressures were mostly subdued. As in recent months, the report highlighted the existence of shortages of specialized skilled labor. Even so, the report concluded, "The outlook among most districts remained optimistic."