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posted on 01 March 2017

March 2017 Beige Book: Reading Between The Lines - Some Economic Improvement

Written by Steven Hansen

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

Analyst Opinion of this month's Beige Book

Seems like the rate of growth inched up with some moderate improvement (as opposed to modest). Still the Fed is not saying the economy is strong.

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 February 17, 2017. The summary for this release:

Reports from all twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that the economy expanded at a modest to moderate pace from early January through mid-February. Consumer spending expanded modestly since the last report. Retail sales increased at a subdued pace across most of the nation, with a number of Districts noting an ongoing shift from in-store to internet purchasing. Auto sales varied widely, but were said to be up in most Districts. Tourism activity was mixed but mostly stronger. Manufacturing activity accelerated somewhat, with most Districts characterizing the pace of growth as moderate. The energy sector showed modest growth in early 2017, and transportation activity was steady to somewhat higher across the nation. Home construction and sales continued to expand modestly in most Districts, while residential rental markets were mixed. Home prices were steady to up modestly in most Districts, and a number of Districts noted low inventories of existing homes. Commercial real estate construction grew modestly, and sales and leasing activity grew moderately. Lending activity was steady to somewhat higher. Businesses were generally optimistic about the near-term outlook but to a somewhat lesser degree than in the prior report.

Employment and Wages
Labor markets remained tight in early 2017, with some Districts noting widening labor shortages. Employment grew moderately in most of the nation, though three Districts characterized growth as modest and two reported that it was little changed. A number of Districts noted that staffing firms were seeing brisk business for this time of year, and one noted more conversions from temporary to permanent workers. In general, wages in most Districts rose modestly or moderately, with a few reporting some pickup in the pace of wage growth. A number of Districts noted that shortages of skilled workers--particularly engineers and IT workers--were driving up their wages, and there were also some reports of labor shortages in the leisure and hospitality, construction and manufacturing industries.

Prices
Pricing pressures were little changed from the prior report. Most Districts reported that selling prices were up modestly or moderately, though four indicated that prices had largely leveled off. Input prices were up modestly, on balance. Energy prices and farm prices were mixed but mostly steady, on balance, while prices for construction materials climbed in a number of Districts. Overall, businesses said they expected both input prices and selling prices to increase modestly in the months ahead.

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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