Thursday, January 13, 2011

Beige Book Shows Moderate Growth

From the Federal Reserve:

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest that economic activity continued to expand moderately from November through December. Conditions were said to be improving in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond Districts. Activity increased modestly to moderately in the Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts. The economy of the Minneapolis District "continued its moderate recovery," while that of the San Francisco District "firmed further" in the reporting period leading up to the close of 2010. Conditions were generally said to be better in Districts' manufacturing, retail, and nonfinancial services sectors than in financial services or real estate.

Contacts in the manufacturing sector in all Districts reported that activity continued to recover, with the Richmond and Chicago Districts citing especially solid gains in orders. However, the Boston, Atlanta, and Dallas Districts noted that business remained weak for manufacturers selling into the construction sector. Retailers in all Districts indicated that sales appeared to be higher in this holiday season than in 2009 and, in some cases, better than expectations. Nonfinancial service-sector contacts in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts cited demand increases ranging from slight to "relatively strong." Transportation services were more mixed, with the Cleveland, Atlanta, and Kansas City Districts noting stable to slowing shipping volumes. Financial conditions were mixed across the Districts reporting on it, with overall loan demand slowly improving in Philadelphia and Richmond and weaker in St. Louis and Dallas. The Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts cited increased activity in the energy sector, while energy production in the Cleveland District was stable.

Residential real estate markets remained weak across all Districts. Commercial construction was described as subdued or slow, while commercial leasing activity reportedly increased in the Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts.

Most District reports cited comments by both retailers and manufacturers that costs were rising, but indicated that competitive pressures had led to only modest pass-through into final prices. Labor markets appeared to be firming somewhat in most Districts, as some modest hiring beyond replacement was said to have occurred and/or was planned in a variety of sectors. At the same time, however, upward pressure on wages was reportedly very limited.

Most Districts indicated that business contacts were positive about the outlook, although still generally cautious. The Dallas District noted modest increases in optimism and positive outlooks across a range of sectors, Chicago stated that contacts were cautiously optimistic about the 2011 outlook, and New York cited widespread optimism about the near-term outlook; The St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and San Francisco Districts all pointed to planned increases in hiring by their contacts as evidence of expected strengthening in business activity in 2011. Contacts in the Philadelphia District foresaw "improving economic conditions in 2011, but … not strong growth."

I'll be digging deeper into this report over the next few days.