Beige Book Reports Economy Expanding Moderately in Spite of Weak Housing Markets
Reports from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts suggest that economic activity continued to expand moderately from November-December in the latest edition of the Beige Book. Conditions were said to be improving in the Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Richmond Districts. Activity increased modestly to moderately in the Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Dallas Districts. The economy of the Minneapolis District “continued its moderate recovery,” while that of the San Francisco District “firmed further” in the reporting period leading up to the close of 2010. Conditions were generally said to be better in Districts’ manufacturing, retail, and non-financial services sectors than in financial services or real estate. Activity in residential real estate and new home construction remained slow across all Districts. A majority of the Districts, including Boston, New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas, and San Francisco characterized local housing markets as weak and sluggish with little change from the previous reporting period. Kansas City noted further weakening, while Richmond received reports of both flat activity and further declines. The St. Louis District saw additional declines in existing home sales, but also cited increased new home construction permits. All Districts attributed slumping activity to concerns about the pace of economic recovery, especially in employment, while the Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago Districts mentioned difficulty obtaining credit as another constraint on demand. High levels of existing home inventories continued to damp the pace of new home construction in most Districts reporting on construction, although Boston, Richmond, Dallas, and San Francisco mentioned pick-ups in multifamily construction within their Districts. Home prices generally declined or held steady in the New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis and San Francisco Districts; the New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco Districts mentioned distressed properties placing downward pressure on prices. Boston reported rising median home prices across most states in the District, but contacts attributed those increases to relatively higher sales of more expensive properties rather than a general upward movement in home prices. Outlooks for residential real estate in the coming year were mixed, with contacts in most Districts described as expecting continued weak conditions. Commercial real estate markets displayed mixed results across the Districts again this reporting period, as leasing markets exhibited increasing signs of recovery and nonresidential construction remained weak. Leasing activity increased modestly in the Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts and showed tentative improvement in the Dallas District. Vacancy rates, while quite high across the country, fell marginally in the Kansas City District and in New York City’s office market. Leasing market fundamentals held roughly steady in the Boston, Philadelphia, and San FranciscoDistricts. Commercial construction activity was described as very limited across most Districts, with bulk of new activity coming from projects related to healthcare, public infrastructure, and multifamily housing. Contacts in most Districts expected modest improvements in commercial leasing in 2011, although the outlook for construction was mixed and some Districts noted rising costs as a concern. Click here to view a full copy of the January 2011 Beige Book. For more information, visit www.federalreserve.gov.