Research >> Economics

Beige Book: Economic Activity continues to expand modestly


Economic activity expanded modestly from October through mid-November, similar to the pace of growth seen over the prior reporting period. Most Districts reported stable to moderately growing consumer spending, and increases in auto sales and tourism were seen across several Districts. In manufacturing, more Districts reported an expansion in the current period than the previous one, though the majority continued to experience no growth. The picture for nonfinancial services remained quite positive, with most Districts reporting modest to moderate growth. Transportation activity was rather mixed across Districts. Reports from the banking sector indicated continued but slightly slower growth in loan volumes. Home sales were mostly flat to up, and residential construction experienced more widespread growth compared to the prior report. Construction and leasing activity of nonresidential real estate continued to increase at a modest pace. Agricultural conditions were little changed overall, remaining strained by weather and low crop prices. Activity in the energy sector deteriorated modestly among reporting Districts. Outlooks generally remained positive, with some contacts expecting the current pace of growth to continue into next year.

Employment and Wages
Employment continued to rise slightly overall, even as labor markets remained tight across the U.S. Several Districts noted relatively strong job gains in professional and technical services as well as healthcare. Reports were mixed for employment in manufacturing, with some Districts noting rising headcounts while others noted stable employment levels and one District reported layoffs. There were scattered reports of labor reductions in retail and wholesale trade. The vast majority of Districts continued to note difficulty hiring driven by a lack of qualified applicants as the labor market remained very tight. The shortage of workers spanned most industries and skill levels, and some contacts noted that their inability to fill vacancies was constraining business growth. Moderate wage growth continued across most Districts. Wage pressures intensified for low-skill positions.

Prices
Prices rose at a modest pace during the reporting period. Reports regarding input costs and selling prices in the manufacturing sector were mixed, with some Districts noting deceleration in prices, while others cited increased cost pressures and a few indicated little to no change. Retailers mentioned higher costs, which contacts in some Districts attributed to tariffs. Firms' ability to raise prices to cover higher costs remained limited, though a few Districts noted that companies affected by the tariffs were more inclined to pass on cost increases. Service sector prices in reporting Districts were mostly flat to up. Energy and steel prices were flat to down, while reports on construction materials and agricultural commodity prices were mixed. Overall, firms generally expected higher prices going forward.

Highlights by Federal Reserve District

Boston
Economic activity expanded at a modest to moderate pace as businesses and consumers headed into the fourth quarter. Prices were largely stable and hiring steady. Outlooks were mostly positive—an improvement since the last round.

New York
There was little or no growth in the regional economy. Employment was little changed, as job creation slowed, partly reflecting a shortage of available workers, while wage growth moderated. Input price decelerated, while selling prices continued to rise modestly. Service sector activity weakened, and real estate markets softened somewhat.

Philadelphia
On balance, business activity continued at a modest pace of growth during the current Beige Book period. Labor markets tightened further throughout the District, accompanied by slowing employment growth and continued moderate wage growth. Price increases remained modest. Most firms expressed cautious optimism but continued uncertainty.

Cleveland
Fourth District economic activity increased modestly. Strength in professional and business services drove growth. Manufacturing improved slightly. Home and auto demand was up, though nondurable consumption was mixed. Employment grew slightly, driven by hiring in professional and business services. Wages rose modestly overall. Selling prices increased modestly on balance.

Richmond
The Fifth District economy grew moderately. Manufacturers saw a pick-up in shipments and new orders but continued to face constraints from tariffs and trade uncertainties. Tourism remained strong while reports on retail sales were mixed. Financial and nonfinancial services experienced positive but mild growth. Labor demand strengthened while wage and price growth remained moderate, overall.

Atlanta
Economic conditions improved modestly. Tightness in the labor market persisted, and low-skill wage pressures increased. Nonlabor input costs rose. Retail sales and tourism activity were stable. Residential real estate activity improved, and commercial real estate activity was positive. Manufacturing activity accelerated further during the reporting period.

Chicago
Economic activity increased slightly. Employment, consumer spending, and manufacturing all increased slightly. Construction and real estate activity was little changed, while business spending decreased slightly. Wages and prices rose slightly and financial conditions improved modestly. More poor weather added to crop farmers' difficulties.

St. Louis
Economic conditions have been mixed but relatively unchanged since our previous report. Contacts continued to note a heightened sense of economic uncertainty. Labor market conditions remained tight, and many firms reported raising wages and salaries to attract new workers. The outlook among firms surveyed in mid-November was slightly pessimistic for the second consecutive quarter.

Minneapolis
Ninth District activity grew at a modest pace. Employment grew slightly. Labor demand remained healthy, but some softness was evident, and labor supply remained tight nonetheless. Consumer spending rose, with increases seen in airport traffic and vehicle sales. Manufacturing contracted, with reports of shrinking backlogs. Construction and real estate markets reported healthy activity. Oil drilling decreased slightly.

Kansas City
District economic activity was flat in October and early November. Consumer spending edged down as sales in the retail sector rose but fell in the auto, restaurant and tourism sectors. The professional and high-tech services and wholesale trade sectors reported rising sales, while transportation contacts noted a decline. Overall conditions in the energy, agricultural and manufacturing sectors remained weak.

Dallas
Economic activity continued to expand moderately. Growth remained solid in services and retail, and down-shifted slightly in manufacturing. Home sales remained on the rise while energy activity continued to decline. Selling prices were largely flat, as firms' ability to pass through cost increases remained limited. Hiring continued at a steady pace. Outlooks were generally improved, though uncertainty remained elevated.

San Francisco
Economic activity in the Twelfth District expanded at a modest pace. The labor market remained tight, and wage growth was modest. Reports on price inflation were mixed. Sales of retail goods increased somewhat, and consumer and business services activity was solid. The pace of commerce in the manufacturing sector was little changed, and activity in the agriculture sector was mixed. Activity in residential and commercial real estate markets expanded moderately, and lending grew further.






Posted: November 27, 2019 Wednesday 02:00 PM




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