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Atlanta Fed's Beige Book points to modest growth, rising caution
The Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District—commonly known as the Beige Book—is a report is published by the Federal Reserve eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector.
Below is a summary of the Atlanta Fed's July 18 Beige Book:
- Reports from Sixth District business contacts indicated that economic activity expanded at a modest pace in June and early July. The outlook among most firms remained cautiously optimistic, although the majority of contacts acknowledged that risks were weighted to the downside.
Consumer spending and tourism
- District retail sales activity improved slightly in June and early July, but merchants reported that consumers remained very conservative.
- Tourism activity and business travel remained strong, and the outlook among contacts was positive for the rest of the year.
Real estate and construction
- District residential brokers indicated that home sales were flat to slightly higher compared with year-ago levels. Brokers also reported that the decline in inventories has helped stabilize home prices in many areas. The sales outlook among brokers remained positive with most anticipating continued modest year-over-year home sales gains.
- District homebuilders reported that new home sales and construction rose modestly compared with year-ago levels. Contacts noted that multifamily construction remained robust. The majority indicated that new home inventories declined further on a monthly and an annual basis. In the near term, homebuilders expect sales and construction to post modest gains compared with a year earlier.
Manufacturing and transportation
- Manufacturing contacts indicated that the pace of new orders and production growth remained positive but had moderated.
- According to railroad contacts, intermodal activity continued to strengthen. Double-digit increases in shipments of petroleum products, motor vehicles, and equipment were reported; however, movement of grain, metallic ores, and nonmetallic minerals declined.
Banking and finance
- Banking contacts noted some improvement in residential mortgage lending and auto loans continued to be a source of strength. Commercial and industrial lending remained soft.
- Regional employment growth remained positive but muted. Employers continued to cite uncertainty regarding future economic conditions as a reason for limiting hiring, and recent economic volatility appears to have exacerbated these anxieties.
- Contacts continued to note difficulty in finding qualified applicants for many highly technical positions. The skills mismatch problem has been especially hard on low-wage individuals, according to community and economic development contacts.
Prices and wages
- Firms responding in June to the Atlanta Fed's Business Inflation Expectations survey reported a decline in unit cost expectations for the second consecutive month. Survey respondents indicated that, on average, they expect labor and material costs to rise 1.7 percent over the next 12 months. That figure is down from 1.8 percent in May and 2.1 percent in April.
- Business contacts reported that lower prices for natural gas and refined oil products were reportedly providing some cost relief. Wage pressures remained modest, although some employers noted that they were increasing starting pay for workers with high-demand skill sets.
Natural resources and agriculture
- Contacts continued to report that investment in expanding and maintaining existing transportation infrastructure would be necessary to accommodate increases in domestic oil and natural gas production.
- Varying levels of drought conditions had expanded through much of the District, resulting in stress to some crops. However, the June tropical storm helped some areas.
The next Beige Book will be published August 29.
By Shalini Patel, a senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department
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