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Summary of Economic Reports by Federal Reserve District Banks

Following is a summary of U.S. economic conditions as reported by the 12 Federal Reserve district banks in the central bank’s latest regional survey, known as the Beige Book.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta prepared the latest report. Information was collected on or before Sept. 28.

Boston: “Reports from business contacts in the First District indicate the region’s economy is expanding at a modest pace. Most retail and manufacturing contacts report sales or revenue gains from a year earlier, although the manufacturers say growth is slower than earlier in the year and some have seen actual declines. Consulting and advertising firms are generally upbeat, with results depending on specific client industries. Residential real estate contacts note increases in sales and only small changes in median sale prices. Commercial real estate leasing activity has slowed somewhat, while investment conditions remain positive. With the exception of a consulting firm that has expanded recently and a manufacturer citing especially strong growth, responding firms are doing only modest hiring. While contacts in most industries mention the upcoming election, so-called fiscal cliff, and Europe as risk factors increasing uncertainty, it is only in commercial real estate leasing that respondents say current activity levels are measurably damped by such concerns.”

New York: “Economic activity in the Second District has held steady since the last report. Prices of finished goods and services have generally been stable. The labor market has shown further signs of softening, as fewer business contacts report that they are adding workers, and a major employment agency describes hiring activity as sluggish. Retailers, including auto dealers, note some leveling off in sales activity following increases. Tourism activity has generally held steady at a high level, though there were some indications of softening in mid-September. Residential real estate markets have shown further signs of improvement. Office markets have shown some signs of slackening, but industrial markets have picked up modestly. Finally, bankers report increased loan demand, except on consumer loans, steady to tighter credit standards, and lower delinquency rates on commercial loans and mortgages.”

Philadelphia: “Aggregate business activity in the Third District has continued to improve - growing modestly - since the previous Beige Book. A couple of sectors grew faster than the average, while a few declined slightly. Manufacturing activity declined somewhat, although a slight increase in new orders may presage a turnabout. Retail sales growth has continued at a modest pace since the last Beige Book, while auto sales have continued to increase at a strong pace. Lending volumes at Third District banks have continued to grow modestly, and credit quality has continued to improve. Sales of new homes have slowed since the previous Beige Book period, while brokers report strong growth in sales of existing homes (from previously low levels). Commercial real estate contacts reported less leasing activity and continued weak demand for new construction. Service-sector firms reported mixed results with stronger tourist visitation, a slowing defense sector, and modest growth across most other service sectors. Price pressures have changed little since the last Beige Book.”

Cleveland: “ Business activity expanded in the Fourth District since our last report, although the rate of growth remains modest. On balance, manufacturing output rose. In the real estate sector, nonresidential construction picked up, while reports on single-family housing starts were mixed. Sales of existing family homes increased. Retailers and auto dealers saw a modest improvement in sales during August and September on a year-over-year basis. Shale gas activity continued at a robust pace, while coal production fell below prior-year levels. The slowdown in freight transport volume, which began in the second quarter, has abated. And the demand for business and consumer credit moved slightly higher. ”

Richmond: “Fifth District economic activity improved modestly since our last report. Most manufacturing contacts reported activity firmed somewhat. Port activity continued to expand. Retailers reported that sales grew on balance, and non-retail firms cited marginal revenue expansion. Lending activity improved somewhat, although most applications continued to be for refinancing. Residential real estate activity continued to strengthen; however, areas of weakness remained in the District. Tourism contacts reported healthy bookings as the summer season ended. Commercial real estate reports were mixed for private-sector projects and weaker for government-related projects. Labor market reports were also mixed, with accounts of modest increases in employment along with major layoffs and hiring freezes. Price changes were generally small in the manufacturing and services sectors in recent weeks.”

Atlanta: “Sixth District business contacts described economic activity as expanding slowly in September, and most expect little change in the near term. Most retailers cited slow sales growth while auto dealers continued to experience strong results. Hospitality reports remained largely positive, with the exception of cruise-lines. Residential brokers and builders signaled that housing conditions continued to improve in many parts of the District as sales and prices of new and existing homes slightly increased compared with a year ago. Commercial development continued to improve, led by multifamily construction. Manufacturers indicated that new orders had softened while production levels only mildly increased. Bankers saw improvements in demand for overall loans, particularly those for housing purchases and refinances. Payrolls expanded modestly on net, and firms noted some deceleration in input prices, while wages remained relatively unchanged. ”

Chicago: “Economic activity in the Seventh District continued to expand in late August and early September, but again at a slow pace. However, contacts remained guardedly optimistic that conditions would improve; noting that at least some of the uncertainty surrounding the outlook was likely to be resolved following the November election. Growth in consumer spending was little changed, while business spending increased at a slower rate. Manufacturing activity edged lower, and growth in construction moderated. Credit conditions continued to improve gradually. Cost pressures increased some, due in large part to higher food and energy prices. The drought led to an earlier start than normal for the harvest, and corn and soybean prices moved down a bit.”

St. Louis: “Economic activity in the Eighth District has expanded at a moderate pace since our previous survey. Recent reports of planned activity from manufacturing and services contacts have been positive. Residential real estate market conditions have continued to improve moderately, while commercial and industrial real estate market conditions have continued to be mixed. Overall lending activity at a sample of small and mid-sized District banks increased slightly from mid-June to early September. Agricultural conditions in the District have generally improved since our previous report.”

Minneapolis: “The Ninth District economy expanded modestly since the last report. Increased activity was noted in construction and real estate, consumer spending, tourism, and professional services. Energy and mining were steady at high levels, while agriculture varied widely, with crop farmers generally in better condition than animal producers. Meanwhile, activity slowed slightly in the manufacturing sector. Labor markets tightened somewhat. Overall wage increases remained subdued, although stronger increases were reported in some areas. Price increases were generally modest.”

Kansas City: “The Tenth District economy expanded at slightly slower pace in late August and September compared to earlier in the summer. Consumer spending slowed somewhat, manufacturing growth was more subdued, and transportation firms reported flat conditions. Growth in commercial real estate activity slowed marginally, but remained on a positive trend. Residential sales and construction continued to grow at a solid pace. Drought conditions hurt agricultural production, though farm incomes were generally healthy due to higher crop prices and insurance programs. Energy activity remained solid, and bankers noted steady loan demand, better loan quality, and increased deposits. Prices rose moderately, but wage pressures were contained outside of a few skilled positions.”

Dallas: “The Eleventh District economy expanded at a moderate pace over the past six weeks. Energy activity remained strong, and construction and real estate activity picked up as housing demand strengthened. Demand for business services improved slightly, and transportation services activity continued to expand. Reports on manufacturing activity were mixed. Growth in retail and auto sales slowed over the reporting period, but Eleventh District sales continued to outperform the national average, according to respondents. Lenders noted steady loan demand. Agricultural conditions improved slightly. Price and wage pressures were modest over the reporting period, and employment levels continued to edge up. Many respondents across industries said continued uncertainty about upcoming elections was clouding outlooks.”

San Francisco: “Economic activity in the Twelfth District grew at a modest pace during the reporting period of mid-August through late-September. Upward price pressures remained limited overall, and upward wage pressures remained muted. Sales of retail items rose slightly, and demand for most business and consumer services gained further on net. District manufacturing activity edged up. Agricultural output was mostly steady, while activity continued to trend up for providers of energy resources. Home demand in the District showed continued signs of improvement, and demand for commercial real estate was mainly stable. Financial institutions reported overall loan demand was unchanged or up somewhat on balance.”

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