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, also known as the Beige Book.
The Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas prepared the latest report. Information was collected on or before April 5.
BOSTON: “Economic activity in the First District continues to expand modestly according to business contacts, although conditions are somewhat mixed across individual firms. Retailers generally cite slower than expected sales, and tourism has softened, partly on account of unseasonal weather. Over half of responding First District manufacturers report demand improvements in the first quarter; the rest are less upbeat. Most consulting and advertising firms say business is strong. In the residential sector, limited inventory is said to be constraining home sales in the region, but median home prices are rising modestly. Contacts say hiring reflects demand growth, so few firms are adding substantially to headcounts except in the consulting sector. Price pressures are minimal.”
NEW YORK: “Economic growth in the Second District has picked up somewhat since the last report. Business contacts continue to report moderate input price pressures but most report their selling prices remain steady. There has been fairly broad-based strengthening in labor market conditions. Retailers report that sales have generally been strong and ahead of plan in March, and auto sales have remained fairly robust. Tourism activity has generally been strong in recent weeks, though Broadway theaters have been in a bit of a slump. Commercial and especially residential real estate markets have strengthened since the last report. Finally, bankers report widespread increases in loan demand, continued narrowing in loan spreads, and further modest declines in delinquency rates.”
PHILADELPHIA: “Aggregate business activity in the Third District has maintained the modest pace of growth that was evident during the previous Beige Book period. General retail activity and residential construction appear to have decelerated somewhat, to a modest rate of growth. Sales of new and used autos maintained a moderate rate of growth as did residential real estate sales. Transportation services accelerated to a moderate pace of growth this period. The manufacturing sector reported slight increases in overall demand -- a pickup since last period. General price levels, as well as wages and home prices, were reported to have increased slightly overall -- similar to the last Beige Book period. While some uncertainty remains as sequestration unfolds, contacts express greater confidence in the underlying strength of the economy. However, many contacts continue to hold off on their plans to expand capacity and hire more staff.”
CLEVELAND: “Business activity in the Fourth District expanded at a moderate pace during the past six weeks. Manufacturing orders and production were mostly higher. The momentum seen in residential construction since the beginning of the year, including multi family, has been maintained. Retail sales volume between mid-February and mid-March was higher relative to the lackluster post-holiday period, while new motor vehicle sales posted moderate gains on a year-over-year basis. Freight transport volume exceeded projections made late last year. Hiring was sluggish across industry sectors, although the pace has picked up among home builders since the start of the year. Staffing-firm representatives reported that the number of job openings and placements rose slightly, with vacancies found primarily in industrial production. Wage pressures were contained. Input prices were stable, apart from increases in construction materials.”
RICHMOND: “The District economy grew moderately overall in recent weeks, although activity varied by sector. Manufacturing production continued to expand but at a somewhat slower pace. Retail sales contracted, with the notable exception of robust light vehicle sales. The residential real estate sector generally strengthened, and commercial real estate and construction markets improved. Cold, wet weather hindered spring plantings by farmers, while oil and natural gas production maintained a moderate pace during the past six weeks. Labor markets were mixed since our last report. Retail prices rose more slowly, and average retail wages declined.”
ATLANTA: “Sixth District business contacts reported that economic activity continued to advance at a modest pace from mid-February through March. Reports across sectors were generally positive and expectations for the coming months remained optimistic. Retail reports were mixed with some retailers citing improved sales and others feeling the pinch from a constrained consumer. Homebuilders and brokers experienced further improvements in sales and prices of new and existing homes, and inventories continued to decline on a year-over-year basis. Overall, manufacturing activity remained positive as new orders and production increased. Payrolls continued to grow at a tepid pace as firms remained reluctant in hiring due to uncertainty over fiscal policy and healthcare reform.”
CHICAGO: “Economic activity in the Seventh District expanded at a modest pace in March. In general, contacts remained cautiously optimistic about the economic outlook. Growth in consumer spending edged lower, while growth in business spending picked up. Manufacturing production growth slowed. Residential construction continued to rise at a moderate pace, and nonresidential construction increased slightly. Credit conditions remained favorable. Cost pressures were largely unchanged, and wage pressures remained moderate. Prices for corn, soybeans, milk, and hogs fell, while cattle prices were little changed on net.”
ST. LOUIS: “The economy of the Eighth District has expanded at a moderate pace since our previous report. Recent reports of planned activity in manufacturing have been positive, while recent reports of planned activity in the service sector have been mixed. Residential real estate market conditions have continued to improve throughout most of the District, and commercial and industrial real estate market conditions have also improved in many areas of the District. Total lending at a sample of small and midsized District banks remained largely unchanged from mid-December 2012 to mid-March 2013.”
MINNEAPOLIS: “The Ninth District economy grew moderately. Increased activity was noted in consumer spending, tourism, professional services and manufacturing. Construction and real estate grew at a fast pace, the energy and agriculture sectors were steady at high levels, while mining slowed. Labor markets tightened somewhat, and wage increases were moderate. Overall price increases were modest.”
KANSAS CITY: “The Tenth District economy expanded moderately in March, and expectations for future activity strengthened. District contacts reported stronger-than-expected consumer spending and anticipated additional gains this spring. Improvements in residential and commercial real estate market conditions exceeded typical seasonal trends with robust sales, higher prices and brisk construction activity. Although District manufacturing activity softened, factory managers projected a rebound in orders, production, and shipments. Persistent drought hindered winter crop development, while crop insurance payments lessened the demand for operating loans. District contacts expected oil drilling activity to strengthen as seasonal demand supports higher oil and gasoline prices. Though more companies anticipated hiring additional workers in the coming months, wage pressures remained subdued except for specialized positions at transportation, high-tech, energy and construction firms.”
DALLAS: “The Eleventh District economy expanded at a slightly faster pace over the past six weeks than during the previous reporting period, when growth was moderate. Many manufacturing firms noted that activity increased since the last report. In the nonfinancial services sector, legal and accounting demand increased, although staffing firms reported sluggish demand. Retail sales and auto sales were up. Robust housing demand led to price gains, and commercial real estate activity remained strong. Lenders noted moderate growth in loan demand, and activity in the energy sector remained at high levels. Drought conditions remained prevalent in the agricultural sector. Reporting firms said prices remained stable overall, and there were limited reports of wage pressure. Employment levels were steady to up.”
SAN FRANCISCO: “Economic activity in the Twelfth District expanded at a modest pace during the reporting period of late February through early April. Price increases for most final goods and services were limited, and upward wage pressures were minimal overall. Sales of many retail items rose, and most business and consumer services gained further. District manufacturing activity appeared to increase on net. Production activity and sales grew for agricultural producers. Demand for both homes and commercial real estate properties continued to expand on balance. Contacts from financial institutions reported increased loan demand.”