Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Fed Releases Beige Book

From the Federal Reserve:

Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts indicated either stabilization or modest improvements in many sectors since the last report, albeit often from depressed levels. Leading the more positive sector reports among Districts were residential real estate and manufacturing, both of which continued a pattern of improvement that emerged over the summer. Reports on consumer spending and nonfinancial services were mixed. Commercial real estate was reported to be one of the weakest sectors, although reports of weakness or moderate decline were frequently noted in other sectors.

Reports of gains in economic activity generally outnumber declines, but virtually every reference to improvement was qualified as either small or scattered. For example, Dallas cited slight improvements residential real estate and staffing firms, while New York noted gains only in a few sectors (predominantly manufacturing and retail). Retail and manufacturing conditions were mixed in Boston, but some signs of improvement were reported. New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and San Francisco cited small pickups in manufacturing activity. In the Kansas City District, an uptick was noted in technology firms, while services firms posted revenue gains in Richmond. However, conditions were referred to as stable or flat for business services and tourism firms in Minneapolis and agriculture in St. Louis and Kansas City.

The weakest sector was commercial real estate, with conditions described as either weak or deteriorating across all Districts. Banking also faltered in several Districts, with Kansas City and San Francisco noting continued erosion in credit quality (often with more expected in the future). One bright spot in the banking sector was lending to new homebuyers, in response to the first-time homebuyer tax credit. Finally, labor markets were typically characterized as weak or mixed, but with occasional pockets of improvement.

Districts generally reported little or no increase to either price or wage pressures, but references to downward pressures were occasionally noted. While upward price pressures were generally subdued in most Districts, materials prices increased in Cleveland (mainly for steel) and Kansas City. Manufactured goods prices were flat to up slightly in Boston. Boston reported that in some market segments "product competition and customer clout are leading to downward pressure on prices." Minimal wage pressures were noted in Cleveland and Minneapolis.

There is something in here for everyone on the blog. NDD and I have been looking at manufacturing favorably and I've been very happy with housing. Silver Oz has always cautioned that current levels are from very depressed levels. Finally, as Invictus has noted on several occasions, there is little reason to think that wage pressures are going to increase, thereby leading to a great concern about the consumer's overall strength.