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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fed's Beige Book: Economic activity increased at "modest to moderate" pace

by Calculated Risk on 1/11/2012 02:00:00 PM

Fed's Beige Book:

Contact reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest that national economic activity expanded at a modest to moderate pace during the reporting period of late November through the end of December. Seven Districts characterized growth as modest; of the remaining five, New York and Chicago noted a pickup in the pace of growth, Dallas and San Francisco reported moderate growth, and Richmond indicated that activity flattened or improved slightly. Compared with prior summaries, the reports on balance suggest ongoing improvement in economic conditions in recent months, with most Districts highlighting more favorable conditions than identified in reports from the late spring through early fall.
Consumer spending picked up in most Districts, reflecting significant gains in holiday retail sales compared with last year's season, and activity in the travel and tourism sector expanded in most areas.
Upward price pressures and price increases remained quite limited for most categories of final goods and services, as the effects of prior increases in the costs of selected inputs have eased.
And on real estate:
Activity in residential real estate markets largely held steady at very low levels, with the exception of further increases in the construction of multifamily residences. The pace of single-family home sales remained quite sluggish throughout the country, although the Dallas District reported a modest increase over the prior reporting period. Some Districts, such as Boston and Atlanta, noted that home sales exceeded levels from twelve months earlier, but mainly because the earlier levels reflected a substantial drop following the expiration of the homebuyers' tax credit in mid-2010. Prices were largely stable on a short-term basis in most areas but in many instances were below their levels from twelve months earlier. Extensive inventories of distressed properties were reported to be a source of price restraint in the Boston, Richmond, Chicago, and San Francisco Districts.
Demand for nonresidential real estate remained somewhat soft overall but improved in a number of Districts. Vacancy rates and other indicators in markets for office space were largely unchanged in the major metropolitan markets in the Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, and St. Louis Districts. By contrast, New York reported that demand for office space "picked up in late 2011," causing vacancy rates to edge down and asking rents to rise.
This was based on data gathered on or before December 30th. More sluggish growth...