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posted on 18 January 2017

January 2017 Beige Book: Reading Between The Lines - Little Change in the Rate of Growth

Written by Steven Hansen

The consolidated economic report from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts (Beige Book) stated "the economy continued to expand at a modest pace across most regions from late November through the end of the year". The previous report stated the economy expanded at "that the economy continued to expand across most regions from early October through mid-November".

Analyst Opinion of this month's Beige Book

Does not seem that there is much change to the rate of growth. So much for the FOMC saying the economy is strengthening. This issue of the Beige Book came in a new format:

.... The modifications will standardize specific core topics included in each of the 12 Federal Reserve Bank District reports, provide a more consistent presentation of the national summary, and enhance the design of the publication.

The national summary, along with each District report, will consistently cover three core topics: overall economic activity, employment and wages, and prices. Each District report will continue to include other topics or industry-specific reports of particular interest in that District. Additionally, the national summary will include highlights from each District.

The Beige Book characterizes regional economic conditions and prospects across the 12 Federal Reserve Bank Districts based upon a variety of information gathered from businesses and community organizations in each District. Its qualitative nature creates an opportunity to identify dynamics and emerging trends in the economy that may not be readily apparent in available economic data. The Beige Book is generally released on the Wednesday two weeks prior to each Federal Open Market Committee meeting.

The first Beige Book in the new format will be released on January 18, 2017. A template of the new format is attached.

Please see the end of this post for words the Federal Reserve uses when the economy is entering a recession. The Beige Book completely missed the 2001 recession, and was late in seeing the Great Recession.

This report is based on information collected on or before 18 November 2016. The summary for this release:

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that the economy continued to expand at a modest pace across most regions from late November through the end of the year. Manufacturers in most Districts reported increased sales with several citing a turnaround versus earlier in 2016. Growth in the energy industry was mixed; two Districts reported weakness in coal production but others reported improvements in coal, oil, or gas activity. Most Districts said that non-auto retail sales had expanded, but several noted that sales over the holiday season were disappointing and reports in more than one District suggested that growth in e-commerce had come at the expense of bricks-and-mortar retailers. All Districts reported varying degrees of growth in employment and a majority described their labor markets as tight. Residential construction and sales were generally mixed, although San Francisco reported strong real estate market activity throughout the 12th District. Financial conditions were stable. Firms across the country and industries were said to be optimistic about growth in 2017.

Employment and Wages
Labor markets were reported to be tight or tightening during the period. Employment growth ranged from slight to moderate and most Districts indicated that wages increased modestly. A couple of Districts mentioned layoffs, but even in those Districts, as in other regions, most responding firms were said to have added employment, on net. District reports cited widespread difficulties in finding workers for skilled positions; several also noted problems recruiting for less-skilled jobs. Wages in some Districts were pushed up a bit by increases in the states' minimum wages and most Districts said wage pressures had increased. Many Districts said contacts expect labor markets to continue to tighten in 2017, with wage pressures likely to rise and the pace of hiring to hold steady or increase.

Prices
Pricing pressures intensified somewhat since the last report. Eight out of twelve Districts saw modest price increases and the remainder experienced slight increases, or flat prices in the case of the Atlanta District. Increases in input costs were more widespread than increases in final goods prices. Cost increases were reported for coal, natural gas, and selected building and manufacturing materials. Retailers' selling prices were mixed, but on balance were flat or down amidst competitive discounting. Prices of most agricultural commodities stayed flat at very low levels. Home prices were stable or up modestly. Businesses in several districts reportedly expect further modest increases in input costs and selling prices in 2017.

Click the "source" hyperlink below to read the full report.

The Beige Book is a summary of current economic conditions:

Commonly known as the Beige Book, this report is published eight times per year. Each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its District through reports from Bank and Branch directors and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources. The Beige Book summarizes this information by District and sector. An overall summary of the twelve district reports is prepared by a designated Federal Reserve Bank on a rotating basis.

Fed's Words When Economy is entering a Recession

For the recession starting December 2007, here is the lead up summary words from the Beige Books:

  • 28Nov2007 - "expanding"
  • 16Jan2008 - "increasing moderately"
  • 05Mar2008 - "growth slowed"
  • 16Apr2008 - "weakened"

For the March 2001 recession which ended in November 2001, here are the Beige Book summary words:

  • 17Jan2001 - "economic growth slowed"
  • 07Mar2001 - "sluggish to modest economic growth"
  • 02May2001 - "slow pace of economic activity"
  • 13Jun2001 - "little changed or decelerating"
  • 08Aug2001 - "slow growth or lateral movement"
  • 19Sep2001 - "sluggish"
  • 24Oct2001 - "weak economic activity"
  • 28Nov2001 - "remained soft"
  • 16Jan2002 - "remained weak"

Source: Federal Reserve



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