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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.


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04/16/2015


Southeast Manufacturing: Solid as an Oak

When I was a kid, I spent a few fall afternoons cutting and splitting firewood with my older brother. I must say that I didn't care for the process at all. It was hard work, and I have much respect for people that carry on the time-honored tradition. I learned quickly that there were certain types of wood you wanted to stay away from. Oak was one of them. Now, I am ashamed to say that I didn't pay close attention when collecting tree leaves for science class, but I always knew when I was trying to split a piece of oak. As a matter of fact, when I would come across a piece of oak, I preferred to skip over it. Oaks are strong and stately trees and no fun at all to split. The March Southeastern purchasing managers index (PMI) report, released on April 6, reminded me of my ill-fated attempts to split oak. It is one tough piece of wood.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track regional manufacturing activity. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which analyzes current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The March Southeast PMI's overall index declined slightly from February, falling 2.5 points to 58.0 (see the chart). However, the index has remained above the 50 threshold for expansion 14 out of the last 15 months. It also averaged a solid 58.0 during the first quarter.

  • The new orders subindex fell 6.6 points to 56.9.
  • The production subindex decreased 2.9 points compared with the previous month and now reads 61.8.
  • The employment subindex declined 9.2 to 57.8. The March report indicated that manufacturing payrolls have now grown for 18 consecutive months.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex increased 1.2 points to 54.9.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 5.2 points to 58.8.
  • The commodity prices subindex rose 4.8 points and now reads 40.2.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Optimism for future production also increased in March. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 53 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 46 percent in February.

Much of the recent national manufacturing data have been weak. In March, the industrial production report indicated that manufacturing output increased 0.1 percent during February, but output had declined in the previous two months. New orders for core capital goods also declined for the sixth consecutive month in February and the March ISM index, although still indicating expansion, fell to its lowest reading since May 2013. Some analysts believe cold weather and the strong dollar are affecting overall manufacturing activity.

Despite the recent weak national numbers, southeastern manufacturing appears to be holding strong...just like the oak trees I tried to split as a kid. If you've never split wood—and especially a piece of oak—try it sometime. I doubt it will make your top-five list of things to do. Oak is one tough piece of wood.


April 16, 2015 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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03/12/2015


Southeast PMI Surges in February

The Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) report was released on March 5, and it indicates that any lingering effects from the late 2014 manufacturing slowdown have abated. If you recall, the December Southeast PMI dipped into contraction territory, but it has rebounded nicely since. The PMI index has risen 14.9 points since December and now sits at its highest reading since April 2014.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI to track southeastern manufacturing activity. The Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University produces the survey, which provides an analysis of current conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates contracting activity.

The Southeast PMI's overall index rose 4.9 points to 60.5 in February (see the chart). The subindexes also suggest some positive future developments:

  • The new orders subindex rose to 63.4, a 6.0 point increase over January and a 29.4 point increase over the last two months.
  • The production subindex increased 3.5 points over the previous month and now reads 64.6.
  • The employment subindex rose 7.8 points over January to 67.1, indicating that manufacturing payrolls grew for the 17th consecutive month.
  • The supply deliveries subindex increased 1.8 points from the previous month to 53.7.
  • The finished inventory subindex increased 5.5 points compared with January.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell 1.7 points and now reads 35.4.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Optimism for future production fell in February. When asked for their production expectations during the next three to six months, 46 percent of survey participants expected production to be higher going forward, compared with 61 percent in January. The good news is that no survey respondents expect production to be lower than their current levels during the same time period.

The change in energy prices and severe winter weather are just a couple of challenges manufacturing faces. Some isolated reports of reduced orders from manufacturers closely tied to the energy sector have emerged, but on the other hand, the drop in oil prices has other contacts saving money on fuel costs. However, most contacts in the Southeast have expressed little direct energy-related effect on their business activity. Judging by the February PMI report, southeastern manufacturing is holding strong. We'll see if the positive momentum sustains into spring.


March 12, 2015 in Economic conditions, Economic Indicators, Inventories, Manufacturing, Prices, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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11/13/2014


Signs Point Up for Regional Manufacturing

Have you ever noticed all the signs in the world around you? They are everywhere. Many of them can prompt some deep thought. For instance, I was recently driving to work one morning, and three deer ran out in the road in front of me. Luckily, I didn't hit them, but it made me wonder: Who decides where to put deer crossing signs? How do they know a deer wants to cross the road right there?

Speaking of signs worth your attention, the signs for southeastern manufacturing are pointing up, according to the latest Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI), which was released on November 6. The report suggests that things look pretty strong, and digging into the report, one could conclude that things are even stronger than they initially appear.

The Atlanta Fed's research department uses the Southeast PMI (produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University) to track manufacturing activity in the Southeast. The survey analyzes current conditions in the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The Southeast PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The PMI increased to 56.5 in October, which was a 1.5 point increase over September (see the chart). Some notable highlights:

  • The new orders subindex remained especially strong in October, registering 64.4, which is a 3.4 point increase over September's 61.0. New orders have averaged a solid 60.7 for the year.
  • The production subindex increased significantly to 67.3 during October, 8.3 points higher than September's reading of 59.0.
  • The employment subindex fell 2.2 points from the previous month. October's reading of 54.8 still indicates that manufacturing payrolls are increasing.
  • The supplier deliveries subindex rose 3.8 points during October, indicating that delivery of inputs is slowing as a result of high demand.
  • The finished inventories subindex fell 5.7 points compared with September and sits at 41.3. The fall in finished inventories suggests that inventory levels are lower than the previous month and could lead to higher orders in the near future.
  • The commodity prices subindex fell to 51.0, a 2.0 point decrease from September.
Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

When asked for their production expectations over the next three to six months, only 21 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher, down from 50 percent in September. According to the survey, 19 percent of survey respondents expect production to be lower than their current production levels. Those responses imply that 60 percent expect production to stay at current levels.

So to recap: The PMI indicates that regional manufacturing has seen strong new orders and production, employments levels are expanding, demand for inputs could be slowing deliveries, inventory levels are falling, commodity prices are essentially flat, and most purchasing managers are expecting to remain at their current levels of production. Although the low production expectations for the next three to six months prevent it from being a perfect set of conditions, they collectively indicate strong manufacturing activity in the near future. Just as with the deer crossing signs, I'll be paying close attention.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Nashville Branch

November 13, 2014 in Economic conditions, Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Prices, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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07/10/2014


A Southern Slowdown in Manufacturing?

Manufacturing in the Southeast had been thriving in recent months. According to the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, new orders, production, and employment at regional manufacturers had been strong since March. The latest PMI report, released on July 7, suggests that activity may be slowing down a little bit.

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions for the region in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Representatives from various manufacturing companies are surveyed regarding trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

The June PMI decreased 4.5 points compared with May. Although still boasting an overall reading of 55.3 points (which is not bad), the new orders and production subindex readings dropped. The new orders subindex fell 10.1 points from May to 59.4, and the production subindex fell 10.8 points to 56.6 compared with the previous period (see the chart). The readings are still firmly in expansion territory, but they don’t have the excitement of the high readings from previous months. The employment subindex also decreased 4.6 points from May’s 55.2. Manufacturing payrolls are still increasing, according to the PMI survey, but fewer companies may be adding employees.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

The supplier delivery times subindex increased 1.8 points during the month, suggesting that it is taking a little longer to receive inputs at manufacturing plants. The commodity prices subindex fell 10.0 points compared with May, which could be a sign that price pressures for materials may be easing.

Looking ahead, manufacturing contacts’ optimism concerning future production remains lackluster. When asked for their production expectations, only thirty-four percent of survey participants expect production to be higher in the next three to six months. The percentage of contacts expecting higher production has been falling in recent months.

So, is manufacturing activity slowing? It’s difficult to draw that conclusion over one month’s data. However, the sharp drop in new orders and production is hard to ignore. It’s important to remember that the overall PMI reading is still positive and is in line with June’s national index reading of 55.3 from the Institute for Supply Management. The Southeast PMI indicated that manufacturing activity had been sprinting down the track in recent months. Maybe it needed a breather, or maybe it pulled a hamstring. We’ll have to wait and see.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch


July 10, 2014 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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06/12/2014


Southeast Manufacturing Rides a Wave in May

The most recent Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) indicated that manufacturing activity continued to expand in May. The latest report, released on June 5, put the overall index at 59.8 points. Although the May index was 3.4 points below April’s 63.2 level, it was still well above the 50-point threshold, indicating expansion in the manufacturing sector.

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions for the region in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Representatives from various manufacturing companies are surveyed regarding trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

All components of the Southeast PMI decreased during May, but for the most part, only slightly (see the chart):

  • The new orders subindex fell 2.8 points from April but remained a solid 69.6. A high new orders subindex is a good sign that future production activity will be robust.
  • The production subindex fell 0.7 points compared with April, but like new orders, it remained strong with a reading of 67.4. The high production subindex suggests that factories are currently busy, Coupled with the elevated new orders subindex, manufacturing firms stand a good chance of remaining busy in the months to come.
  • The employment subindex declined 0.8 points from April to 63 but still indicates that manufacturing payrolls are increasing.
  • The supplier delivery subindex also suggested strengthening in the sector. While it fell 5.2 points to 57.6, it remains solidly in expansionary territory—an indication that demand for inputs among manufacturers is healthy.

A notable aspect in the PMI report was the responses to the survey question concerning future production. When asked about their production expectations over the next three to six months, only 41 percent of purchasing managers expect production to be higher. That rate is somewhat out of line with the strong new orders numbers we’ve seen, but maybe some underlying elements are dampening purchasing managers’ optimism.

The Southeast PMI has averaged a reading of 61.5 during the last three months. That level represents the strongest three-month average since early 2012. Let’s hope that manufacturing activity can continue to ride the wave and not wipe out this summer.

By Troy Balthrop, a senior Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch


June 12, 2014 in Employment, Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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05/15/2014


Southeast PMI Hits a Two-Year High

Last month, I suggested in a SouthPoint post that manufacturing activity in the Southeast could be a lion or a lamb, the outcome depending on a couple of different scenarios. Was the strong March PMI report a result of pent-up activity that was delayed by the unusually severe weather experienced during the winter, or was there strong underlying demand present that would propel manufacturing into the second quarter? Judging by April’s Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) report, there is a strong possibility it was the latter. April’s PMI report indicated that manufacturing activity was robust, and various indicators in the report suggest it could continue.

The Atlanta Fed’s research department uses the Southeast PMI to track manufacturing activity in the region. The survey is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. It analyzes current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The PMI is based on a survey of representatives from manufacturing companies in those states and analyzes trends concerning new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery times, and inventory levels. A reading above 50 indicates that manufacturing activity is expanding, and a reading below 50 indicates that activity is contracting.

The Southeastern PMI rose 1.7 points compared with March and reached a two-year high of 63.2. The new orders subindex and production subindex both reached their highest levels since early 2012. New orders increased 2.1 points, and production increased 2.7 points compared with March. The rise in new orders bodes well for future manufacturing activity. When new orders are high, generally future production will also be high. Factories also appear to be hiring. The employment subindex rose 5.2 points compared with the previous month, indicating that manufacturing payrolls increased during April. The more new orders and production rise, the more new workers will likely be needed. The finished inventories subindex fell 7.8 points during April, suggesting that inventory levels are falling, which could also lead to increased manufacturing activity going forward.

At the state level, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee all saw increases in their overall PMI during April and were in expansionary territory (see the chart). The only state not above the 50-point threshold was Mississippi, which just missed with a 49.1.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Using the PMI report as an indicator, manufacturing in the Southeast has been on a nice roll the last couple of months. The Southeast PMI has outperformed the national PMI (it should be noted that the Southeastern PMI is not a subset of the national PMI). March and April reports suggest that activity is growing and solid. We will have to wait and see if the trend continues, but in the meantime, let’s hope for a three-year high in May.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch


May 15, 2014 in Economic Indicators, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast | Permalink

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04/14/2014


Our Bread and Butter

It’s spring, which means warming weather, getting out the gardening tools, and convening the semiannual meeting of the Atlanta Fed’s Agriculture Advisory Council, which represents diverse agriculture and agribusiness interests across the Southeast.

Prices are always a topic of conversation at council meetings. This meeting was no exception, and here are some examples of what we heard:

  • Fertilizer prices are up.
  • Feed prices are down from last year’s highs.
  • Fuel costs have been stable over the last year.
  • Equipment and seed costs are up.
  • Beef prices are up, and some producers are considering increasing herd size because of favorable prices and lower feed costs.
  • The value on the very best farmland is holding up, but farmland prices may see some corrections, with the biggest changes expected on marginally productive land.

Citrus greening is reducing the supply of Florida oranges, and growers continue to seek ways to mitigate the effects of the disease. Even though costs for products that help fight the disease are up, growers are saying, “If you think it works, you do it.” Growers hope that new research funding included in the recently approved farm bill will help find a solution, but concern also exists that as production declines, processing infrastructure will be lost, which may make it challenging to expand in the future.

Foreign markets have also affected growers. For example, cotton prices are in flux as a result of China’s pricing policy, while dairy prices are enjoying an uptick because of China’s increased purchases. Poultry producers expect this year to be a good one. The poultry industry is setting export records, and producers are saying exports represent future growth.

Finding labor remains difficult for most producers, and the problem is no longer just finding the numbers they need but increasingly finding those with the necessary technical skills as well. Producers are encouraging local junior colleges to offer technical programs for farm workers: “We need fewer but better-educated laborers,” one source said. There is also a growing need for data-management skills. Many growers will outsource data management/analysis to big companies specializing in that area.

Council members agreed that the outcome of the newly signed farm bill remains uncertain as the details are worked out, but they anticipate large farm producers will have to significantly restructure their businesses.

Another challenge is coming from the consumer side, as buyers require unprecedented amounts of information about health and wellness and sustainability processes from agriculture producers. Advisory council members acknowledge that technology makes it possible to supply this information, but the group recognized the need for agriculture producers to have a seat at the table when discussing new requirements.

As the meeting drew to a close, we went around the table one last time, and these comments are among what we heard:

  • “We will get more efficient.”
  • “There will not be a lot of inflation in agriculture in the next year or two.”
  • “Agriculture will go through another cycle of de-peopling,” but “…as the labor required to produce is decreasing, value and next-step processing is not shrinking.”

As I reflect on all I heard that day, I know technology will continue to play a big role in agriculture production, and its use is expanding every day. I also know from talking with our council members that good old-fashioned tenacity, know-how, and the love of farming shine through. The continued marriage of these disciplines will literally be our bread and butter for years to come.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch


April 14, 2014 in Agriculture, Commodity Prices, Outlook, Prices, Productivity, Southeast, Technology | Permalink

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04/10/2014


Southeastern Manufacturing...a Lion or a Lamb?

Remember the saying, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb?” Its origin is believed to be related to the position of the constellations Leo (the lion) and Aries (the lamb) during the month of March. Some observers suggest that it’s simply an indication that the weather is changing, with the end of winter at the first of the month and the beginning of spring at the end of the month.

I’m not sure which is true, but the weather wreaked havoc on the manufacturing industry the last few months. January and February were particularly tumultuous. Manufacturing contacts in the Southeast reported difficulties receiving supplies, shipping orders, and operating production lines at full capacity because some employees were unable to report to work during those two months. The Atlanta Fed has been monitoring the effects of extreme winter weather on the manufacturing industry. The March Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) suggests that manufacturing has come back roaring, but we should watch out for a bit of bleating (see the chart).

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Representatives from various manufacturing companies are surveyed regarding trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

The March Southeastern PMI report came in quite strong. The overall reading of 61.5 was its highest since April 2012. There are a couple of different ways to interpret the strong report. With option one, the report is a result of businesses making up for lost production and order backlogs during the previous months, therefore pushing up production and new orders during March. Under option two, underlying demand is improving and will be robust going forward, and March is just the beginning of a strong year. Let’s take a look at the numbers.

The overall March PMI increased 5.5 points over February. The new orders subindex soared 11.2 points to 70.2 and the production subindex vaulted 10.4 points to 65.4. Going back to January, the new orders subindex has increased 21.2 points and the production subindex has risen 17.5 points. No doubt about it, these are solid increases. The employment subindex increased 6.7 points from February’s 52. The supplier delivery times subindex fell 0.3 point from 57 in February, indicating that purchasing agents are getting their supplies slightly faster than the previous month. The finished inventories subindex also fell 0.3 point compared to February. Optimism among purchasing agents increased during March. Fifty-eight percent of survey participants expect production to be higher over the next three to six months.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index


Whether option one or option two applies remains to be seen. It could be a combination of both. It will be interesting to see the national Institute for Supply Management report in April. Will the rest of the nation experience a similar rise in manufacturing activity? Let’s hope so. We’d like to see the sharp rise in new orders and production in the Southeast resulting from a sustained improvement in demand rather than just a snap-back effect of improving weather. Either way, we will be keeping our eyes and ears open for the lion and the lamb.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville branch

April 10, 2014 in Inventories, Manufacturing, Productivity, Shipping, Southeast, Weather | Permalink

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03/11/2014


Has Regional Manufacturing Weathered the Storm?

The weather has been a sore topic among manufacturing contacts across the nation this year, and the Southeast is no different. Inclement winter weather has been extreme and widespread in 2014, but hopefully it is close to being over. Production has been slowed across much of the nation as employees were unable to travel to work and supply deliveries to manufacturing facilities were delayed. The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) specifically identified the weather as having an adverse impact on manufacturing activity in January and February. However, the latest Southeast purchasing managers index (PMI) suggests that maybe the South has weathered the storm.

The Southeast PMI is produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. A reading on the index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction. The survey provides an analysis of manufacturing conditions for the region in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The survey asks representatives from various manufacturing companies about trends and activities in new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished inventories.

The February PMI increased 5.4 points over January and represents a healthy overall increase, considering the harsh weather conditions (see the chart). The new orders subindex rebounded strongly in February with an increase of 10.0 points to 59 points. The production subindex also had a solid increase of 7.1 points to 55.0. New orders and production had both been contracting in late 2013 and early 2014, so the increases last month were a welcome development. The employment subindex decreased 3.2 points from January’s 55.2. The supplier delivery times subindex and finished inventories subindex both increased during the month, and the prices subindex fell 7.6 points compared with January.

Southeast Purchasing Managers Index

Looking ahead, manufacturing contacts are not as optimistic as they had been in recent months. When asked for their production expectations, only 46 percent of survey participants expect production to be higher in the next three to six months. That expectation is in stark contrast to January when 62 percent of survey respondents expected higher production over the same timeframe.

Hopefully the weather was only a temporary headwind for manufacturing activity. As the mercury begis rising and snow stops falling on the roadways, maybe manufacturing activity will strengthen in March. Then Old Man Winter can go on a nice, long, sunny vacation.

By Troy Balthrop, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch


March 11, 2014 in Economic conditions, Employment, Manufacturing, Productivity, Southeast, Weather | Permalink

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01/16/2014


The Beige Book Looks Rosy

The Federal Reserve released the first Beige Book of 2014 on January 15. To prepare the Beige Book—published eight times per year—each 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 first paragraph from the national summary began with this sentence:

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest economic activity continued to expand across most regions and sectors from late November through the end of the year.

The Atlanta Fed was one of two Reserve Banks that saw conditions improve compared with the previous reporting period. Overall, we said that “[b]usiness contacts indicated that from late November through December overall economic conditions improved moderately in the Sixth District.”

Below are highlights from our report, beginning with the important sections on employment and inflation:

  • Businesses did not indicate a significant pickup in hiring, nor did they report any staff reductions. Businesses continued to employ technology and utilized overtime and contract labor as an alternative to increasing permanent staff. Contacts in manufacturing, construction, professional, and energy sectors report persistent difficulty in finding qualified workers. On balance, many firms expressed continued hesitancy caused by concerns about healthcare reform in terms of their overall hiring plans.
  • Cost pressures remained mostly stable, according to business contacts. Healthcare was the most cited exception, with reports of larger cost and price increases than usual. Merit increases remained in the 1 to 3 percent range. However, skilled and professional positions in energy, construction, information technology, and logistics continued to see above-average wage increases and higher starting pay. Year-ahead unit costs expectations were 1.9 percent in December, unchanged for the fourth consecutive month, according to the Atlanta Fed's survey on business inflation expectations.

Most sectors of the regional economy reported a solid start to the new year:

  • District merchants noted positive year-over-year holiday sales growth, with online sales outpacing traditional store sales.
  • The hospitality sector continued to experience the same solid pace of activity that it had all year long.
  • Residential housing brokers noted that existing home sales growth continued to slow, while homebuilders experienced modest growth in new home sales.
  • Commercial contractors described construction activity as improving, especially in the multifamily segment of the market.
  • Manufacturers indicated that overall activity strengthened since the previous report.
  • Capacity utilization in the energy industry remained near historic highs, and deep water oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico increased.

Atlanta Fed business contacts held a positive outlook heading into 2014. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart shared this view in a speech delivered to the Rotary Club of Atlanta on January 13, where he said:

I expect the stronger pace of economic growth in the second half of 2013 to continue in 2014. My current view is that real GDP will expand between 2.5 and 3 percent this year, and I would not be surprised if we achieve results at the upper end of this range.

A new year often breeds optimism, sometimes misplaced. But based on our view of the data and what our business contacts are saying, we think that being optimistic this January is justified.

Photo of Michael ChrisztBy Michael Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s public affairs department


January 16, 2014 in Economic Indicators, Employment, Growth, Housing, Inflation, Manufacturing, Prices, Productivity | Permalink

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