Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fed's Beige Book: Stabilization

by Bill McBride on 10/21/2009 03:02:00 PM

From the Fed: Beige Book

Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts indicated either stabilization or modest improvements in many sectors since the last report, albeit often from depressed levels. Leading the more positive sector reports among Districts were residential real estate and manufacturing, both of which continued a pattern of improvement that emerged over the summer. Reports on consumer spending and nonfinancial services were mixed. Commercial real estate was reported to be one of the weakest sectors, although reports of weakness or moderate decline were frequently noted in other sectors.
On real estate:
Most Districts reported that housing market conditions improved in recent weeks, primarily from a pickup in sales of low- to middle-priced houses. Contacts reported that sales were boosted by the government's tax credit for first-time homebuyers. Resale activity also edged up in parts of the New York District, although prices continued to be depressed due to a substantial volume of foreclosures and short sales. New and existing home sales remained flat in the Philadelphia District, and home sales continued to decline throughout the St. Louis District. Sales of higher-priced homes were very slow, according to Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Kansas City. Moreover, real estate agents in the Boston and Cleveland Districts were uncertain about the future of home sales once the tax credit expires. Availability of financing continued to be a concern for potential buyers in the Cleveland and Chicago Districts.
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Commercial real estate continued to weaken across the 12 Districts, although even this sector had scattered bright spots. Each District indicated that demand for private commercial real estate was weak, with New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and San Francisco all characterizing activity as declining further since the last report. An inability to obtain credit was often cited as a problem for businesses that wanted to purchase or build space. High vacancy rates were noted as a key concern especially for landlords who were not offering concessions. And, while industrial real estate in the Richmond District was generally weak, renewed interest by retailers to revisit postponed expansion plans was also noted. Finally, public nonresidential construction activity funded by federal stimulus projects was a source of strength in the Cleveland, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Dallas Districts, but gains were often offset by state and local government cutbacks.