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Beige Book: Southeast Growing at a Moderate Pace
Eight times a year, the 12 Reserve Banks gather anecdotal information on current economic conditions in their districts through reports from Bank and branch directors as well as interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. Then, approximately two weeks prior to each Federal Open Market Committee meeting, results are published in the Beige Book on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors' website.
Because the lead sentence—of the national summary and each district's section—often gives a broad view of economic conditions in that region, that first sentence often gets much attention. Here is a roundup of the first sentences of these sections:
- National: Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that the economy continued to expand at a modest to moderate pace from early October through mid-November.
- Boston: Economic activity continues to expand in the First District.
- New York: Economic growth in the Second District has continued at a moderate pace since the last report.
- Philadelphia: Aggregate business activity in the Third District continued to rise at a modest pace during this current Beige Book period (beginning with the first partial week of October).
- Cleveland: Business activity in the Fourth District expanded at a moderate pace since our last report. On balance, demand for manufactured products grew at a moderate rate.
- Richmond: The District economy expanded moderately in recent weeks.
- Atlanta: Businesses across the Sixth District described economic activity as moderately increasing from October to mid-November.
- Chicago: The rate of growth in economic activity in the Seventh District continued to be modest but slowed a bit in October and early November.
- St. Louis: Business activity in the Eighth District has expanded at a moderate pace since the previous report.
- Minneapolis: The Ninth District economy grew at a moderate pace since the last report.
- Kansas City: The Tenth District economy continued to grow modestly in November.
- Dallas: The Eleventh District economy expanded at a moderate pace over the past six weeks.
- San Francisco: Economic activity in the Twelfth District expanded at a modest pace during the reporting period of early October through late November.
As you can tell, all 12 districts experienced similar levels of activity. Here are some notable highlights from the Atlanta Fed's portion of the Beige Book:
On balance, contacts across the private sector reported that the partial federal government shutdown had little to no direct impact on employment, but it has negatively affected business confidence, which could translate into delayed hiring decisions now or in the near term. Contacts continued to express concern about shortages of qualified labor. Their concern is that companies seeking to hire and expand their business could be impeded by an inability to find qualified workers. Overall, firms experiencing any growth in demand for their products expressed no plans to hire in the near term.
Contacts continued to report stable pricing, with no major concerns about inflation. Isolated reports of cost increases (for example in fast food, grocery stores, and construction) were generally passed through successfully to customers. Year-ahead unit cost expectations were unchanged at 1.9 percent in November, according to the Atlanta Fed's Business Inflation Expectations survey (see the chart). Overall, profit margins were tight across most industries. Aside from scattered reports of upward pressure on wages for high-skilled workers, increases remained stable (mostly in the range of 2 percent to 3 percent) across most industries.
Consumer spending and tourism
District retail contacts indicated that economic uncertainty was having an impact on consumer confidence and behavior. Although merchants reported plans to offer robust discounting, beginning even earlier than the traditional Black Friday, retailers' expectations for the upcoming holiday season are only mildly optimistic. Sales of light vehicles were steady. Hospitality firms continued to cite expanding levels of activity in both leisure and business travel.
Real estate and construction
District brokers indicated that growth of existing home sales have slowed notably in recent months. By most accounts, inventory levels continued to decline on a year-over-year basis. Home prices remained ahead of the year-earlier level, but price gains seemed to be slowing. The majority of builders noted that new home sales and construction were ahead of the year-earlier level. Reports on unsold inventory were mixed, while contacts continued to note modest home price appreciation. District commercial brokers noted that demand for space continued to improve modestly. Construction activity slightly increased as well from earlier in the year.
District manufacturers reported gains in new orders, production, and employment in October compared with the previous month. An increasing number of contacts cited higher-than-desired finished inventory levels and remarked that commodity prices continued to rise, albeit at a modest rate. Manufacturers also noted a mild decrease in supplier delivery times.
Banking and finance
Banking contacts reported better overall lending activity relative to our previous report, although loan demand in rural areas remained low. Commercial real estate lending increased as property values rose; commercial and industrial and auto lending was strong. Mortgage lending and refinancing activity slowed as mortgage interest rates increased. Deposit levels were high at most institutions, and banks remained competitive in seeking quality loan customers. Some banks loosened underwriting standards and reduced margins to attract new loan business.
The next Beige Book will be published January 15.
By Shalini Patel, an economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's research department
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