Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Fed's Beige Book: Economic activity expanded at "moderate" pace

by Bill McBride on 4/17/2013 02:00:00 PM

Fed's Beige Book "Prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas based on information collected on or before April 5, 2013."

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest overall economic activity expanded at a moderate pace during the reporting period from late February to early April. ...

Most Districts noted increases in manufacturing activity since the previous report. Particular strength was seen in industries tied to residential construction and automobiles, while several Districts reported uncertainty or weakness in defense-related sectors. Consumer spending grew modestly, and firms in some Districts cited higher gasoline prices, expiration of the payroll tax cut, and winter weather as factors restraining sales growth. Retailers in several Districts expect continued sales growth in the near term.
And on real estate:
Residential real estate activity continued to improve in most Districts, and some Districts, including Cleveland, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco, noted increased momentum since the last report. The New York District, in particular, noted especially strong improvement in residential real estate—both in for-sale housing and apartment markets.

Home sales continued to rise in most Districts. Although homebuyer demand was high in the Boston District, low home inventories were restraining sales, keeping growth modest. Home sales were reportedly strong in both the Atlanta and Dallas Districts. The Richmond District noted low inventories were pushing up contracts to well above listing prices, and the Boston and New York Districts said multiple bids on properties have become more common. Tight inventories and strong sales led to rising home prices in many Districts, including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. Within the New York District, condo sales volumes strengthened and low inventories have begun to drive up selling prices in New York City and surrounding areas, while New Jersey home prices were rising modestly and inventories were shrinking with a marked reduction in the number of distressed properties. Contacts in the Boston District also noted a decline in the stock of distressed properties.

New home construction continued to pick up in most Districts, although the Richmond District said that a low supply of residential building materials had stalled construction. ...

Commercial real estate and construction activity improved in most Districts. Office vacancy rates declined in the Boston District and contacts said the construction of mixed-use projects was picking up. The New York District reported that office vacancy rates continued to decline and rents rose in Manhattan.
Residential real estate "continued to improve" and this was the most positive comment on commercial real estate in some time (but any "improvement" for commercial is from a very low level). This suggests moderate growth overall ...

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