Fed's Beige Book Shows Economy Slowing

   The US Federal Reserve (AKA. The Bubble Factory) today released its beige book which details economic conditions within the Federal Reserve bank districts. The main take away from this report was that while economic activity increased for the period, the rate of growth slowed pointing to a weakening economy. From the report:
Economic activity has continued to increase, on balance, since the previous survey, although the Cleveland and Kansas City Districts reported that the level of economic activity generally held steady. Among those Districts reporting improvements in economic activity, a number of them noted that the increases were modest, and two Districts, Atlanta and Chicago, said that the pace of economic activity had slowed recently.

   Surprisingly manufacturing did pretty well according to the report. It will be interesting to see if the trouble in the markets impacts future manufacturing activity considering there is usually a lag between the stock market and manufacturing. The Beige Book also outlined that consumer spending was relatively strong except for auto sales (consumers can't get enough of those Iphones, IPad's. etc):
 Reports on retail sales during the early summer months were generally positive, although in most Districts the increases were modest. Retail sales in the New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts were higher than year-earlier sales, and Dallas reported solid gains. But sales in the Boston District were mixed compared with the previous year. Recent sales increased slightly in the Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco Districts; sales in the Richmond District weakened; and sales in the Kansas City District were flat compared with the previous report. Several Districts cited apparel, food, and other necessities as recent strong sellers, while big-ticket items were weak sellers. Contacts reported satisfactory inventory levels in the New York District, mixed inventory levels in the Boston District, and low or declining inventory levels in the Richmond, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts. The outlook for sales was mixed: Retailers in the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts reported that they expect modest positive sales growth in the upcoming months; contacts in the Cleveland, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts reported a less optimistic outlook going forward than in the previous report; and retailers in the Boston District reported a cautious outlook.

   The Districts that reported on auto sales during the early summer months generally noted a decrease in recent sales. Since the previous report, auto sales in the New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Chicago, and San Francisco Districts declined, while auto sales in the Kansas City District increased and were unchanged in the Dallas District. Compared with last year, auto sales in the Atlanta and St. Louis Districts were higher. New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Chicago, Kansas City, and Dallas all reported that inventory levels were low or declining. Auto dealers anticipate little change in sales for the rest of 2010 in the Philadelphia District and expect sales to increase slowly in the Dallas District. Contacts in the Kansas City District expect continued strong demand, while those in the Cleveland District do not anticipate strong growth in the coming months.
   The most important part of this report was the discussion on the real estate market and how it is holding up after the expiration of the egregious home buyer's tax credit. The answer is not good with declines reported in construction spending, housing starts, homes sales, etc. The report aslo mentioned the precarious situation of the commercial real estate marker:
Commercial and industrial real estate markets continued to struggle in all twelve Districts. Overall, vacancy rates were flat to slightly increased and continued to exert downward pressure on rents. Construction activity remained weak in most Districts. The New York District noted that commercial development remained generally sluggish despite some pickup in office and retail leasing in New York City. Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Dallas reported that construction activity continued to be weak or to decline, and Cleveland reported that the increase in construction from previous reports has begun to diminish. Philadelphia reported that projects funded with federal stimulus support were near completion with no prospects for additional major construction, while Chicago reported that public infrastructure construction picked up. Developers reported difficult credit conditions in the Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, and Kansas City Districts, while the Dallas District reported a few developers going out of business. The outlook for commercial and industrial real estate across the Districts ranged from further declines in activity to slow growth.
    The Beige Book noted that loan volume at banks declined, especially for mortgage loans indicating that banks are still not lending to the real economy. Another problem was that loan demand was weak.

Most Districts reporting on credit standards continued to note that lending standards remain restrictive. New York reported tighter credit standards for all categories except consumer loans, while Kansas City reported tighter commercial lending standards. Reports on credit quality were mixed in Cleveland and Kansas City, while quality was stable in San Francisco. Credit quality improved slightly in Philadelphia, Richmond, and Chicago. In the Dallas District, nonperforming loans have stabilized and are not expected to worsen. Meanwhile, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Richmond continued to report delinquencies above historic norms. Delinquency rates in the New York District decreased for consumer loans but experienced little or no change in other categories.
   Overall there is not much news from this report from the Fed. The economy is expanding but the rate of growth is slowing quite a bit. The real estate market looks weak and is likely to double-dip without further government stimulus. Credit is hard to come by because the banks are more interested in borrowing from the Fed a 0% and buying 10 year US treasuries yielding 3-4%. It is hard to see how the economy can ever recover if this process keeps up.

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