Thursday, December 2, 2010

Beige Book Shows A Decent Picture Of the Economy

Over the last week, I've looked at several major sectors of the U.S. economy (see here, here, here, and here). The purpose of this has been to demonstrate the economy is actually in better shape then previously thought. In addition, this week we've had some incredibly good numbers come out -- Chicago PMI printed some of its strongest numbers in over two years, auto sales were good, the ISM manufacturing numbers were good, and the ADP employment report was decent. The only bad news was the case shiller price index, which showed a decrease in home prices.

To sum it all up, here is the latest Beige Book from the Federal Reserve, which shows all of the above.

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicate that the economy continued to improve, on balance, during the reporting period from early/mid-October to mid-November. Economic activity in the Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts increased at a slight to modest pace, while a somewhat stronger pace of economic activity was seen in New York, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. Philadelphia and St. Louis reported business conditions as mixed.

Manufacturing activity continued to expand in almost all Districts, with relatively strong growth seen in metal fabrication and the automotive industries. Reports also showed steady to increasing activity for professional and nonfinancial services. Two Districts noted a decline in demand from government agencies due to budgetary shortfalls. Reports on consumer spending tended to be positive. Nonetheless, several Districts noted that households remain price sensitive and focused on buying necessities. Expectations for the holiday shopping season were generally positive, with several Districts expecting higher sales when compared to year-ago levels. Sales of new cars and light trucks were largely higher than in our last report. Tourism improved in all reporting Districts.

Housing markets remain depressed, with several Districts reporting further weakening during the past six weeks. Conditions in commercial real estate were mixed, and activity stayed at low levels. Agricultural conditions were generally favorable, with several Districts reporting yields nearing historic highs. Agricultural sales to off-shore buyers increased. Overall activity in the energy sector continued to expand.

Lending activity remained stable across most Districts. Credit quality has been steady to improving for most of the Districts that commented on it. Prices for final goods and services were fairly stable, despite rising input costs, especially for agricultural commodities, metals, and fuel. Hiring activity showed some improvement across most Districts. Wage pressures were contained.

Here's the bottom line: the economy is in pretty decent shape right now. There are two problem areas: housing and jobs. Housing will be a problem child for some time because of excess supply, but there are signs the employment picture is getting better (making tomorrow's jobs report all that much more important).