Saturday, June 11, 2011

Federal Reserve Beige Book Report from June 8 2011 - Highlighting Real Estate, Construction and Banking/Finance

From the “overview” section of the Federal Reserve “Beige Book” Report issued on June 8, 2011….

Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicated that economic activity generally continued to expand since the last report, though a few Districts indicated some deceleration. Some slowing in the pace of growth was noted in the New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts. In contrast, Dallas characterized that region’s economy as accelerating. Other Districts indicated that growth continued at a steady pace. Manufacturing activity continued to expand in most parts of the country, though a number of Districts noted some slowing in the pace of growth. Activity in the non-financial service sectors expanded at a steady pace, led by industries related to information technology and business and professional services.

Consumer spending was mixed, with most Districts indicating steady to modestly increasing activity. Elevated food and energy prices, as well as unfavorable weather in some parts of the country, were said to be weighing on consumers’ propensity to spend. Auto sales were mixed but fairly robust in most of the country, though some slowing was noted in the Northeastern regions. Widespread supply disruptions–primarily related to the disaster in Japan–were reported to have substantially reduced the flow of new automobiles into dealers’ inventories, which in turn held down sales in some Districts. Widespread shortages of used cars were also reported to be driving up prices. Tourism activity improved in most Districts.

Residential construction and real estate continued to show widespread weakness, except in the rental segment, where market conditions have strengthened and construction activity and development have picked up. Non-residential real estate leasing markets have been generally stable, while construction activity has remained very subdued. Loan demand was steady to stronger in most Districts, especially in the commercial and industrial sector, and widespread improvement was reported in credit quality.

Agricultural conditions were unfavorable across much of the nation, largely reflecting unseasonably cool and wet weather; widespread flooding along the Mississippi River hampered agricultural production in the Atlanta and St. Louis Districts. In the Dallas District, in contrast, drought conditions hurt the wheat crop and led to broader damage from wildfires. The energy industry showed continued strength, with robust expansion in oil drilling and extraction activity.

Labor market conditions continued to improve gradually across most of the nation, with a number of Districts noting a short supply of workers with specialized technical skills. Wage growth generally remained modest, though there were scattered reports of steeper increases for highly skilled workers in certain occupations. Most Districts continued to report widespread increases in commodity prices; manufacturers are said to be passing along a portion of the higher costs in the form of price hikes and fuel surcharges.

The “overview” also provided further detail, and, for your reading pleasure, I’ve copied into this post (only) the “real estate and construction” and “banking and finance” stuff that showed up in the “further details” section of the overview:

Real Estate and Construction

Residential real estate sales markets showed continued weakness in most Districts, while rental markets strengthened. Most Districts indicate that home prices have declined since the last report: Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, Kansas City, and San Francisco all report some downward drift in selling prices, while reports from the New York and Cleveland Districts indicate that prices have been steady, on balance. No district indicates a general increase in home prices. Sales activity, though widely reported to be at low levels, picked up somewhat in the Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, and Kansas City Districts. Dallas indicated that improved traffic has raised prospects of improved sales in the second half of 2011, and Boston observed signs that the market is stabilizing. Sales activity was characterized as mostly steady in the New York, Cleveland, Dallas and San Francisco Districts, but declining in the St. Louis and Minneapolis Districts. Those Districts reporting on the residential rental market–specifically, New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco–all indicate that conditions have strengthened. In terms of residential construction, activity has remained generally depressed, with a number of Districts reporting a large overhang of distressed properties. However, a number of Districts–New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco–report improved prospects for development of multi-family rental properties.

Commercial and industrial real estate markets have generally been steady since the last report, though there have been scattered signs of a pickup. Commercial leasing markets showed modest signs of improvement in the Richmond and San Francisco Districts. Boston and Dallas noted some firming in property sales markets, but Kansas City reported declines in prices for office buildings. Non-residential construction, though widely reported to be at very low levels, rose modestly in the Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Dallas Districts, though Chicago noted that public sector projects are becoming smaller. Cleveland observed a pickup in industrial and high-end commercial development but a pullback in healthcare-related projects. Richmond reported some pockets of strength in the retail market. More broadly, contacts in a number of Districts expressed a general sense of optimism about the outlook for the second half of 2011.

Banking and Finance

Most Districts described loan demand as mixed or slightly improved since the last report. Consumer loan demand showed some improvement in the Cleveland, Richmond, and St. Louis Districts, but held steady or weakened in the New York, Atlanta, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts. Demand for residential mortgages (including new purchases and refinances) increased in Cleveland but held steady in New York, Richmond, St. Louis, and Kansas City. Contacts in the Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts noted a modest uptick in business loan demand. The increase in business loan demand in Cleveland was described as broad-based, including a pickup in construction loan requests for multi-family dwellings. Boston noted an improved lending environment for commercial real estate, and demand for commercial mortgages increased in New York and Dallas. Commercial and industrial loan activity increased in Richmond, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, and San Francisco, held steady in New York, and decreased in Kansas City. Outside of banking, Chicago and San Francisco indicated increased investment activity by hedge funds, venture capital firms, and other forms of private equity.

Credit standards were reported to be mixed but, on balance, a bit easier in recent weeks. New York, Cleveland, and Atlanta noted increased credit availability for automobile loans; Atlanta, Minneapolis and San Francisco indicated easier credit for some types of business loans. Boston reported some easing in commercial real estate lending, but New York reported tighter standards in that segment. Credit standards on home mortgage loans tightened somewhat in the St. Louis District. A number of Districts noted improvements in overall credit quality: specifically, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. New York indicated rising delinquency rates on consumer loans but declining rates on commercial loans and mortgages.

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