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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


SouthPoint

12/02/2014


Southeast Commercial Construction Continues Gathering Steam

Through September 2014, U.S. total private construction spending increased 3.38 percent from the year-earlier level. How did the various categories stack up in terms of their contribution to this year-over-year increase in total private construction spending? The multifamily and nonresidential categories together accounted for 4.34 percent of the change, and new single-family and residential improvements combined to shave 0.96 percent off the change (see the chart).

Contribution-to-year-over-year

Does commercial construction activity in the Southeast mirror that of the nation? On a quarterly basis, the Atlanta Fed polls southeastern business contacts engaged in commercial construction to track and better understand regional trends in construction activity. The latest poll results appear to tell a story similar to the one that the national numbers depict.

Most respondents indicated that the pace of nonresidential construction activity and the pace of multifamily construction activity in the Southeast continued to be ahead of the year-earlier level (see the charts).

Pace-on-nonresidential

Pace-of-multifamily

More than 80 percent of respondents reported a backlog that was similar to or greater than the year-earlier level, signaling that the pipeline of future activity remains fairly robust (see the chart).

Backlog-vs-year

The number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand continued to increase from earlier reports. In the third quarter of 2014, 82 percent of contacts indicated that credit was sufficiently available, compared with 68 percent the previous quarter and 78 percent one year earlier (see the chart).

How-available-do-you

While half of respondents noted that they expect their headcount to remain the same from this quarter to the next, 44 percent of respondents indicated that they were planning to do a modest to significant amount of hiring in the fourth quarter of 2014 (see the chart).

Hiring-plans

Relative to the previous quarter, fewer contacts indicated that they were having a difficult time filling positions (see the chart).

Difficulty-filing

Most contacts reported some degree of upward pressure on labor costs. When looking across the brackets of labor cost increases, most of the pressure seemed to be concentrated in the category indicating that labor costs are up from 3 to 4 percent versus a year ago. This response marks a shift from prior periods, when the pressure appeared concentrated in the bracket indicating that labor costs were up from 1 to 3 percent. Continuing a trend that we’ve noted over the past few quarters, a growing share of contacts (more than 80 percent) indicated that their labor costs had increased more than 3 percent from year-earlier level (see chart).

Labor-costs

The next poll will open on January 5, 2015. If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Note: Third quarter 2014 poll results were collected October 6–15, 2014, and are based on responses from 18 business contacts. Participants in this poll included general contractors, subcontractors, lenders, developers, and material fabricators with footprints of varying sizes across the Southeast.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

December 2, 2014 in Business Cycles, Construction, Southeast | Permalink

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11/24/2014


Conditions Soften for Southeastern Housing

The Atlanta Fed's latest poll of regional residential brokers and homebuilders shows an increase in the number of contacts reporting softening home sales and construction activity. The two charts below show indexes near or below zero.

Oct-SE-Home-Sales

Oct-SE-Construction

This softening appears to be the result of normal seasonal factors, but even so, it seems a good time to revisit a question we posed one year earlier, where we ask builders to look ahead over the next 12 months and characterize risks to their outlook.

Interestingly, builder contacts indicated that access to development finance and lot availability continues to pose significant risks to their outlook. They also reported that land position and labor shortages have become more significant risks compared to one year ago (see the table).

Chart_nov_oct

In addition to highlighting the risks that have come into the forefront during the past year, it also seems worthwhile to point out that a few of the risks have fallen off a bit since we last posed this question. For instance, only one-third of respondents considered rising mortgage rates to be significant risk to their outlook in November 2014 compared to two-fifths of respondents in October 2013. And only one-fourth of respondents indicated that consumer confidence was a significant risk to their outlook in November 2014 compared to nearly two-fifths in October 2013.

To explore these results in more detail, or to view other results that were not discussed in this post, please visit our Construction and Real Estate Survey results web page.

Note: The latest poll results, which reflect activity in October 2014, are based on responses from 35 residential brokers and 24 homebuilders and were collected November 3–12. If you would like to participate in this poll, you may sign up here.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

November 24, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Southeast | Permalink

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10/30/2014


Regional Housing Sales, Construction Slowing

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of regional residential brokers and homebuilders to track emerging trends in housing markets. The latest results, which reflect activity in September 2014, suggest continued slow growth in sales and construction activity.

Many residential brokers and builders indicated that home sales were flat to slightly up from the year-earlier level. The report from brokers and builders on buyer traffic was mixed. Those who indicated a decline in traffic suggested that seasonal factors and a decline in buyer confidence were behind the decline. A growing share of residential brokers and builders reported that home inventory levels had increased slightly from the year-earlier level. Comments suggested that well-priced homes are moving quickly, but that many sellers are pricing their homes fairly optimistically, causing inventory to build until prices are adjusted.

Many builders reported that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level. The drop depicted in the chart below reflects the fact that a growing share of builders reported construction activity as flat to down slightly.

September 2014 Southeast Construction Activity

Most builders indicated that they continue to experience upward pressure on materials prices. Builders’ reports ranged widely when we asked them to specify the materials experiencing the greatest pricing pressure, and their responses included concrete, drywall/sheetrock, and lumber. These reports are fairly consistent with year-over-year changes in the Engineering News Record’s cost indices: on a year-earlier basis, concrete prices are up 3–4 percent, drywall/sheetrock products are up 10 percent, and lumber products are up 7–9 percent.

Builders also continued to report upward pressure on labor costs and that they are having a tougher time filling positions compared to a year earlier. In addition to asking about builders’ difficulty filling positions, we posed a special question about labor shortages. Two-thirds of builders indicated that they were experiencing a labor shortage. Reports about the trades most affected by these shortages were also fairly wide-ranging, but there seemed to be a fair amount of consensus around the idea that framers, masons, carpenters, and drywall installers were the hardest tradespeople to come by on job sites. These results are fairly consistent with report released by the National Association of Home Builders earlier this year.

To explore these results in more detail, or to view other results that were not discussed in this post, please see our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: The latest poll results, which reflect activity in September 2014, are based on responses from 40 residential brokers and 25 homebuilders and were collected October 6–15. Please sign up if you would like to participate in this poll.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


October 30, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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08/22/2014


Southeast Commercial Construction Update: Activity Up from Last Year

At the national level, total nonresidential construction spending fell 2.78 percent between May and June but increased 4.6 percent from the year-earlier level. Because nonresidential construction projects tend to take place over longer time horizons, it’s useful to aggregate the data by quarter to smooth out their short-term volatility. Doing so reveals that nonresidential spending increased slightly (just shy of 2 percent) between the first and second quarters of 2014 and that it increased by 6.7 percent from the second quarter in 2013.

Does the Southeast commercial construction picture align with the national one? The Atlanta Fed polls southeastern business contacts engaged in commercial construction each quarter to track and better understand regional trends in construction activity. The latest poll results appear to echo the national story, suggesting that a pickup in commercial construction activity was sustained through the second quarter of 2014.

Most respondents indicated that the pace of nonresidential construction activity in the Southeast was either ahead of the year-earlier level or remained unchanged from the year-earlier level. All contacts reported that the pace of multifamily construction had increased from year-earlier levels (see the charts).

Pace of Nonresidential Construction Activity versus a Year Ago Pace of Multifamily Construction Activity (units) versus a Year Ago

Several comments from respondents help to illustrate these trends:

  • “More projects to go after in all markets, but competition is still very intense.”
  • “Multifamily supply continues to grow at a strong pace.”
  • “For the first time in six years we are beginning to see much larger projects in the healthcare, commercial and industrial markets.”
  • “Apartment construction remains at a high level and brings concerns that the market will become overbuilt. Each month it seems there are more announcements for new apartment projects.”

Half of all respondents reported that backlog was greater than the year-earlier level; the other half indicated that backlog was similar to the year-earlier level. Although this response represents a drop from the last two quarterly measures of 89 percent and 76 percent, it is still an indication that the pipeline of future activity remains fairly robust.

The number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand continued to increase from earlier reports. Sixty-eight percent of contacts in the second quarter 2014 indicated that credit was sufficient, compared with 60 percent the previous quarter and 57 percent one year earlier (see the chart).

How available do you perceive commercial construction finance to be in your market?

The majority of contacts reported that they plan to increase hiring during the next quarter. Seventy-five percent of contacts in the second quarter 2014 reported that they were planning to do modest to significant hiring, slightly down from 79 percent the previous quarter but up from 57 percent one year earlier (see the chart).

Hiring Plans for Next Quarter versus This Quarter

Compared with a year earlier, more contacts (roughly one out of three) indicated that they were having a difficult time filling positions (see the chart).

Difficulty Filling Positions versus a Year Ago

All contacts reported some degree of upward pressure on labor costs. Sixty percent of contacts indicated that their labor costs had increased more than 3 percent from year-earlier levels. A growing share reported labor cost increases of 6 percent or more (see the chart).

Labor Costs versus a Year Ago

The next poll will open on October 6, 2014. If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Note: Second quarter 2014 poll results were collected July 7–16, 2014 and are based on responses from 20 business contacts. Participants of this poll included general contractors, subcontractors, lenders, developers, and material fabricators with footprints of varying sizes across the Southeast.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


August 22, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Labor Markets, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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06/25/2014


The Growing Gulf Coast: Good Signs despite Low Sales

The weather is not the only thing about to heat up along the Gulf Coast. The economy is warming up as well, according to the Regional Economic Information Network’s (REIN) contacts. The REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s New Orleans Branch reaches out to leaders from large and small businesses from all sectors of the economy and to representatives from community groups along the Gulf Coast in order to gain a representative picture of regional economic conditions, which, by the way, appears to be markedly improving. Since mid-April, we’ve held 15 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, our branch board meeting, and we also attended several conferences.

According to our contacts, business sentiment has picked up. Most of them were optimistic about near-term (three to six months) and medium-term (two to three years) growth and were more confident in their outlook than in the recent past. Of contacts who indicated they were experiencing second quarter growth, approximately half believed the growth was a rebound from an unusually weak first quarter, with the other half attributing it to a modest increase in economic strength.

Burgeoning capital investment was a consistent recent theme. A lack of “visibility”—or a firm’s ability to confidently predict future business conditions—was not reported as a significant inhibitor of capital investment. Nearly every contact shared information about merger and acquisition (M&A) activity or capital expenditure projects under way or planned for 2014. Most projects involved expansion to meet growing demand, including constructing new facilities and upgrading existing ones, although several projects involved new product offerings. Consistent with the recent trend along the Gulf Coast, much of the increased investment stemmed from the energy sector. However, we noticed investment picked up in other industries, such as in education and medical services.

Business contacts also reported that spending on consulting services for leadership development and organizational culture training increased. The addition of new leaders, M&A activity that resulted in conflicting organizational cultures, and the recession-era deferral of discretionary spending generated a surge in demand for these services.

Residential real estate across the Gulf Coast picked up marginally since mid-April. The median residential home sale was around $200,000, though inventories were low. Homes in coastal Alabama’s high-end market (over $600,000) were slow to move, and a lack of high-end inventory in coastal Mississippi led to increased construction in that market. In past months, we heard reports of an increase in raw land deals along the Florida Panhandle, and similarly, a recent reemergence of raw land deals was reported in coastal Alabama, often 50 percent bank-financed with fully collateralized loans. Commercial construction also resurfaced in parts of the region.

Resting retail
Unfortunately, the general optimism was not shared by all sectors. Regional retail contacts shared dampened expectations for the second quarter. Some admitted to difficulty adjusting to a shopping landscape increasingly dominated by the internet, which forced big-box retail stores to rethink sales strategies and reevaluate store locations and sizes and in some cases led to resurgence in the redevelopment of shopping centers.

Bracing for the boom
The employment picture was heartening, with nearly all of our contacts implementing hiring plans. In fact, a few contacts who took steps to reduce employment to “lean and mean” levels during the recession and early recovery admitted they were not so sure the decision was advantageous, and recently they saw productivity increase significantly once they added workers. However, the continued shortage of skilled labor has many contacts worried that some project start dates may be pushed back as they struggle to find qualified people.

Most contacts continued to report isolated wage pressures for skilled labor, medical services, and professional jobs, though some expressed they are bracing themselves for significant wage pressure in the coming months as the economy picks up.

The chatter about plans to increase prices in recent months materialized into reports of price increases, yet contacts admitted the increases were challenging and required a great deal of negotiating.

Overall, the Gulf Coast economy appears to be rising out of the recessionary fog and shedding the winter frost. The picture across most industries was definitively positive, with reports of large investment projects, hiring plans, and price increases.

By Adrienne Slack, vice president and regional executive; Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist; and Harrison Grieb, economic intern, Regional Economic Information Network, all in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed


June 25, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Gulf Coast, Prices, Real Estate, Retail | Permalink

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06/20/2014


Southeast Commercial Construction Picks Up the Pace

Each quarter, the Atlanta Fed conducts a poll of Southeast business contacts engaged in commercial construction in an effort to keep a close eye on construction activity. The latest results revealed that the positive momentum noted in the previous quarter was sustained through the first quarter of 2014.

The majority of commercial construction business contacts indicated that the pace of nonresidential construction activity (measured by square feet) and the pace of multifamily construction (measured by number of units) had increased from year-earlier levels (see the charts).

Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a national construction industry trade organization, conducts a survey of its own called the Construction Backlog Indicator, or CBI. The survey measures the amount of work that will be performed by commercial and industrial contractors in the months ahead. While CBI data are only available through the fourth quarter of 2013, it seems to be telling a similar story to the one our contacts are telling: that the pipeline of construction activity is building up.

The number of respondents reporting that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand increased from earlier reports (see the chart). Sixty percent of contacts in the first quarter of 2014 indicated that credit was sufficient to meet demand, compared with 58 percent the previous quarter and only 31 percent one year earlier.

Most contacts indicated that they plan to increase hiring during the next quarter (see the chart). Seventy-nine percent of contacts in the first quarter of 2014 reported that they were planning to undertake modest to significant hiring, compared with 58 percent the previous quarter and 64 percent one year earlier.

Compared with one year earlier, more contacts (nearly three out of four) indicated that they were having a difficult time filling positions (see the chart).

This result is also consistent with reports from national trade organizations. In an April 4 press release, the Associated General Contractors of America warned that “the pool of available workers is declining rapidly, raising the prospects for significant labor shortages if demand continues to expand.”

Summarizing the information
The key first quarter 2014 findings show that commercial construction activity was increasing, the level of backlog was growing, that the amount of available credit met or exceeded demand, and that firms plan to hire additional employees during the next quarter. While it was a fairly positive report on the whole, the one finding that could prove problematic was that contacts were having a difficult time filling positions.

Note: First quarter 2014 poll results were collected April 7–16, 2014, and are based on responses from 20 business contacts. Participants of this poll included general contractors, subcontractors, lenders, developers, and material fabricators with footprints of varying sizes across the Southeast. If you are a commercial contractor and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by sending a note to RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

June 20, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Real Estate | Permalink

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05/30/2014


Southeast Housing Update: Sales, Prices, Construction Activity Spring Forward

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of Southeast broker and builder business contacts in an effort to detect emerging real estate trends prior to the release of official government and other statistics. According to the April 2014 Southeast Housing Market Poll results:

  • There was a rebound in the number of brokers and builders reporting that home sales had increased from the year-earlier level.
  • More brokers but fewer builders noted that buyer traffic had increased from a year earlier.
  • Most brokers continued to indicate that inventory levels were down from the year-earlier level. The report from builders was split down the middle—half of respondents said that new home inventories increased from the year-earlier level, the other half noted new home inventory levels had fallen.
  • The vast majority of brokers and builders continued to report that home prices increased from a year earlier.
  • There was a rebound in the number of builders reporting that construction activity had increased from the year-earlier level.

To explore the latest poll results in more detail, please visit our Construction and Real Estate Survey results.

Note: April poll results are based on responses from 35 residential brokers and 26 homebuilders and were collected May 5–14, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity; negative values indicate decreased activity.

If you would like to participate in this poll, you may sign up here.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


May 30, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Prices, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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05/09/2014


Is Florida Finally Beginning to Flourish Again?

In March, we shared the view of our contacts in the Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) in north and central Florida. Those contacts described modest but sustained growth in activity in the first quarter of the year. That sentiment continued as winter turned into spring, with reports of increasing activity and greater optimism for continued growth during the remainder of the year.

Since mid-March, the REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s Jacksonville Branch held 13 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, a Trade and Transportation Advisory Council meeting (recently summarized), as well as our branch board meeting. Although meeting participants noted acquisitions as a primary growth engine for most firms, some firms are expanding capacity to meet improving demand. Community banks are reporting increased commercial activity as bigger banks trim lines on small businesses. Though loan demand is still relatively soft, our contacts characterized clients as somewhat more confident, which bodes well for future lending activity. One banker cited noteworthy increases in credit card usage and home equity loans.

Retail contacts continue to express concerns about low-income consumers but note that the slowly improving labor market is resulting in somewhat more spending. In central Florida, contacts noted strong spending by more affluent consumers, including foreign visitors who are seeking high-end retail and dining. Robust home sales and price appreciation, accompanied by declining lender-mediated sales, were widely reported. Commercial construction is on the rise, especially in sectors such as health care, manufacturing, apartments, and higher education.

A focus on cost-cutting along with productivity-enhancing efforts continues. As one chief executive officer put it, “People are the last thing we’ll invest in.” Another company has committed to keeping its general and administrative expenses flat, which will result in support staff cuts to offset the increased cost of technology investments and health care. Two other large contacts noted significant reductions of full-timers to avoid having to provide health care coverage and to “be more in line with the industry.” We increasingly hear more about firms restructuring employee health plans and benefits to reduce costs to the company, including shifting more cost burden to the employee, restricting eligibility for spouses who may have access to insurance elsewhere, and adding risk-based surcharges.

Education contacts noted that the ability to place graduates seeking work has improved. Stories abound regarding difficult-to-fill positions (truck drivers, IT, accounting, etc.), and reports of a willingness to increase starting salaries are mixed. Generally, there were few reports of wage pressures mounting (outside of the trucking industry). The news on input prices remains relatively quiet.

Our contacts noted that qualified mortgage rules—and regulations more generally—have the potential to affect the housing recovery. A mortgage and refinance company has cut the majority of its workforce as refinance volume diminishes but noted that current regulations are making first mortgages, especially to the self-employed, “nearly impossible” to issue. Two other small-banking contacts indicated they have discontinued providing residential mortgages. However, two residential real estate contacts did not indicate any major concern about clients’ abilities to obtain mortgage loans.

At the April meeting of the board of directors of the Jacksonville Branch, we asked board members whether the current and near-term environment reflects an economy that is growing at a 2 percent rate or one that is growing at 3 percent. The majority view activity now and in the coming year to be more closely aligned with a 3 percent growth rate. The board members feel that the biggest potential impediment to growth is related to the consumer, as many people continue to struggle and consumer confidence remains lower than before the recession (see the chart).

Florida Consumer Confidence

The old proverb goes, “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” One could apply this adage to the Great Recession and the long recovery and ask: Has an economic “spring” finally sprung? We’ll be keeping tabs as the year plays out.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch


May 9, 2014 in Banks and banking, Construction, Economic Growth and Development, Economic Indicators, Florida, Health Care, Housing, Jobs, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Retail | Permalink

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05/05/2014


Southeast Housing Update: Traffic, Sales, Prices Up

The Atlanta Fed conducts a monthly poll of southeastern broker and builder contacts in an effort to detect emerging real estate trends prior to the release of the official statistics. Besides our standard questions on key metrics, we will occasionally add a special question or two with the goal of better understanding the mechanics behind the emerging trends.

We recently received results from the he March poll, and instead of discussing all of the results, I wanted to highlight just a few of the findings:

  • The number of brokers and builders reporting an increase in buyer traffic rebounded in March. This rebound supports the notion from earlier reports that weather conditions were in fact weighing down buyer traffic.
  • More brokers reported an increase in home sales in March than in February. At the same time, more builders reported a decline in home sales from February to March.
  • For the first time since February 2011, more builders reported that inventory levels had increased than decreased. However, the opposite was true for brokers, most of whom continued to report a decline in inventory levels.
  • The vast majority of brokers and builders continued to report that home prices increased from the year-earlier level.

Based solely on these poll results, it’s difficult to draw any sort of clear conclusion about what activity might look like going forward.

At this point, our special questions come in handy. We posed two special questions this month to our business contacts. Brokers were asked if they expect to see a “snapback” in the home sales trend, and builders were asked if they expect to see a “snapback” in the home building trend (see the charts). (We defined “snapback” as above-normal growth that would roughly put the industry on par with the previous level and help to at least partially recoup lost activity from the first few months of the year.)

Will there be a 'snapback' in the trend in home building?


Will there be a 'snapback' in the trend in home sales?


You can see from the poll results that only 22 percent of brokers and 11 percent of builders expect to see a snapback in home sales and home building activity. The majority of respondents—56 percent of brokers and 68 percent of builders—indicated that they expect to see growth from the current level, but not a snapback. The remaining respondents indicated that they don’t expect to see a snapback, either because they expect the weakness to persist or because activity never slowed down in their market.

The results of the special questions aligned nicely with the results of the outlook questions that we posed. In the final analysis, most brokers and builders in the Southeast indicated that they expect growth to be flat to slightly up from the year-earlier level.

Note: March poll results are based on responses from 41 residential brokers and 19 homebuilders and were collected April 7–16, 2014. The housing poll's diffusion indexes are calculated as the percentage of total respondents reporting increases minus the percentage reporting declines. Positive values in the index indicate increased activity, and negative values indicate decreased activity.

Detailed results from the construction and real estate survey are available. If you are a real estate broker or homebuilder and would like to participate in this poll, please let us know by emailing RealEstateCenter@atl.frb.org.

Photo of Jessica DillBy Jessica Dill, senior economic research analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


May 5, 2014 in Construction, Housing, Real Estate, Southeast | Permalink

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04/16/2014


Beige Book: Warming Economy Accompanies Spring’s Thaw

Eight times a year, each of the 12 Reserve Banks 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. Their findings are reported in the Summary of Economic Conditions, also known as the Beige Book. The report is published on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors' website about two weeks prior to each Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

The first sentences of the national summary and each Bank's report often receive much attention because the lead sentence tends to summarize economic conditions in that region.

Here is a compilation of the first sentence of the national summary and each Reserve Bank’s report:

  • National: Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest economic activity increased in most regions of the country since the previous report. (A previous SouthPoint post also mentioned the weather’s effect on overall economic conditions.)
  • Boston: The First District economy continues to expand moderately, according to business contacts, although growth rates vary across sectors and firms.
  • New York: Economic activity in the Second District rebounded since the last report, as the harsh winter weather abated.
  • Philadelphia: Aggregate business activity in the Third District grew at a moderate pace during this current Beige Book period.
  • Cleveland: On balance, economic activity in the Fourth District declined slightly in the past six weeks.
  • Richmond: The Fifth District economy expanded moderately since our last report.
  • Atlanta: On balance, the Sixth District economy expanded at a modest pace from mid-February through March.
  • Chicago: Growth in economic activity in the Seventh District picked up in March, and contacts generally maintained their optimistic outlook for 2014.
  • St. Louis: Business activity in the Eighth District has declined slightly since our previous report.
  • Minneapolis: The Ninth District economy continued to grow at a moderate pace since the last report.
  • Kansas City: The Tenth District economy grew moderately in March, and most contacts were optimistic about future activity.
  • Dallas: The Eleventh District economy grew at a moderate pace over the last six weeks.
  • San Francisco: Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to improve moderately during the reporting period of mid-February through early April.

As you can see, almost all districts are experiencing the same level of economic activity.

Here are some notable highlights from the Atlanta Fed's contribution to the Beige Book:

Consumer spending and tourism

  • District merchants reported an uptick in activity from mid-February through March following sluggish sales in January, which were widely attributed to the severe winter weather. Light motor vehicle sales grew modestly during the time period.
  • Hospitality contacts in areas negatively affected by the adverse winter weather saw improvements in activity.

Real estate and construction

  • Brokers reported home sales were mixed. Inventory levels continued to fall on a year-over-year basis, and the majority of contacts reported that home prices remained ahead of the year-earlier level.
  • The majority of builders reported that construction activity and new home sales were ahead of the year-earlier level. The majority of contacts continued to report modest home price appreciation.
  • District brokers noted that demand for commercial real estate continued to improve. Construction activity continued to increase at a modest pace from last year.

Manufacturing

  • Manufacturers reported increased activity across the region from mid-February through March. Significant improvements were cited in production and new orders.

Banking and finance

  • Bankers noted an increase in loan demand.

Employment

  • District payroll growth remained constrained from mid-February through March.

Prices and wages

  • Nonlabor input costs increased very slowly, with a few noted exceptions, including rising costs for developed land, construction materials, and food. Profit margins remained tight across most industries as contacts continued to report very little pricing power.
  • Contacts continued to indicate little wage pressure outside of some high-skilled positions.

The next Beige Book will be published June 4.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Shalini Patel, an economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's research department


April 16, 2014 in Construction, Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Employment, Housing, Jobs, Labor Markets, Manufacturing, Prices, Purchasing, Real Estate, Unemployment, Weather | Permalink

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