Research >> Economics
Beige Book: Economic Activity continues to expand at a modest pace
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that the economy continued to expand at a modest pace across most regions from late November through the end of the year. Manufacturers in most Districts reported increased sales with several citing a turnaround versus earlier in 2016. Growth in the energy industry was mixed; two Districts reported weakness in coal production but others reported improvements in coal, oil, or gas activity. Most Districts said that non-auto retail sales had expanded, but several noted that sales over the holiday season were disappointing and reports in more than one District suggested that growth in e-commerce had come at the expense of bricks-and-mortar retailers. All Districts reported varying degrees of growth in employment and a majority described their labor markets as tight. Residential construction and sales were generally mixed, although San Francisco reported strong real estate market activity throughout the 12th District. Financial conditions were stable. Firms across the country and industries were said to be optimistic about growth in 2017.
Employment and Wages
Labor markets were reported to be tight or tightening during the period. Employment growth ranged from slight to moderate and most Districts indicated that wages increased modestly. A couple of Districts mentioned layoffs, but even in those Districts, as in other regions, most responding firms were said to have added employment, on net. District reports cited widespread difficulties in finding workers for skilled positions; several also noted problems recruiting for less-skilled jobs. Wages in some Districts were pushed up a bit by increases in the states' minimum wages and most Districts said wage pressures had increased. Many Districts said contacts expect labor markets to continue to tighten in 2017, with wage pressures likely to rise and the pace of hiring to hold steady or increase.
Pricing pressures intensified somewhat since the last report. Eight out of twelve Districts saw modest price increases and the remainder experienced slight increases, or flat prices in the case of the Atlanta District. Increases in input costs were more widespread than increases in final goods prices. Cost increases were reported for coal, natural gas, and selected building and manufacturing materials. Retailers' selling prices were mixed, but on balance were flat or down amidst competitive discounting. Prices of most agricultural commodities stayed flat at very low levels. Home prices were stable or up modestly. Businesses in several districts reportedly expect further modest increases in input costs and selling prices in 2017.
Posted: January 18, 2017 Wednesday 02:00 PM