Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Biege Book, Part I

Yesterday, the Federal Reserve released the Beige Book.  This is one of my favorite economic pieces of information because, every 6 weeks, we get a complete, macro-level view of the US economy from a variety of angles.  Let's start with the overall conclusion:

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicate that overall economic activity continued to expand in September, although many Districts described the pace of growth as "modest" or "slight" and contacts generally noted weaker or less certain outlooks for business conditions. The reports suggest that consumer spending was up slightly in most Districts, with auto sales and tourism leading the way in several of them. Business spending increased somewhat, particularly for construction and mining equipment and auto dealer inventories, but many Districts noted restraint in hiring and capital spending plans. By sector, manufacturing and transportation activity was reported to have increased on balance. A few Districts also reported slight improvements in construction and real estate activity; nonetheless, overall conditions for both residential and commercial real estate remained weak. Districts reporting on nonfinancial services cited mixed results with activity varying widely by industry. Loan demand by and large moved lower, with the exception of an increase in mortgage refinancing in many Districts. Crop conditions at harvest were generally less favorable than a year ago. In contrast, energy and mining activity continued to strengthen in several Districts, with the exception of some storm-related slowdowns in the Gulf of Mexico. Cost pressures eased in the majority of Districts, though there was some further pass-through of earlier increases to downstream prices. Wage pressures remained subdued outside of a few exceptions in which firms noted having difficulty finding appropriately skilled workers.

The overall trend is for below trend growth; growth was "modest" and business spending was up slightly.  Although still in terrible shape, there was a slight uptick in real estate.  Loan activity dropped, which jibes with the statement that the business outlook is mixed.  In short, we're probably in a period of 0%-2% growth.