Thursday, June 9, 2011

Beige Book Released

Every six weeks, the Federal Reserve issues the Beige book. This is the most comprehensive, real time economic report we get on the economy, making it a regular must read. The latest report contains information collected up to May 27, indicating it covers the recent slowdown period. Considering the weakness we've seen over the last month or so, I'll be diving into this report next week to take a look a a variety of current indicators. For now, here's the summary:

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that economic activity generally continued to expand since the last report, though a few Districts indicated some deceleration. Some slowing in the pace of growth was noted in the New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts. In contrast, Dallas characterized that region's economy as accelerating. Other Districts indicated that growth continued at a steady pace. Manufacturing activity continued to expand in most parts of the country, though a number of Districts noted some slowing in the pace of growth. Activity in the non-financial service sectors expanded at a steady pace, led by industries related to information technology and business and professional services.

Consumer spending was mixed, with most Districts indicating steady to modestly increasing activity. Elevated food and energy prices, as well as unfavorable weather in some parts of the country, were said to be weighing on consumers' propensity to spend. Auto sales were mixed but fairly robust in most of the country, though some slowing was noted in the Northeastern regions. Widespread supply disruptions--primarily related to the disaster in Japan--were reported to have substantially reduced the flow of new automobiles into dealers' inventories, which in turn held down sales in some Districts. Widespread shortages of used cars were also reported to be driving up prices. Tourism activity improved in most Districts.

Residential construction and real estate continued to show widespread weakness, except in the rental segment, where market conditions have strengthened and construction activity and development have picked up. Non-residential real estate leasing markets have been generally stable, while construction activity has remained very subdued. Loan demand was steady to stronger in most Districts, especially in the commercial and industrial sector, and widespread improvement was reported in credit quality.

Agricultural conditions were unfavorable across much of the nation, largely reflecting unseasonably cool and wet weather; widespread flooding along the Mississippi River hampered agricultural production in the Atlanta and St. Louis Districts. In the Dallas District, in contrast, drought conditions hurt the wheat crop and led to broader damage from wildfires. The energy industry showed continued strength, with robust expansion in oil drilling and extraction activity.

Labor market conditions continued to improve gradually across most of the nation, with a number of Districts noting a short supply of workers with specialized technical skills. Wage growth generally remained modest, though there were scattered reports of steeper increases for highly skilled workers in certain occupations. Most Districts continued to report widespread increases in commodity prices; manufacturers are said to be passing along a portion of the higher costs in the form of price hikes and fuel surcharges.