Highlights from the Fed's latest economic survey

AP News
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Posted: Dec 02, 2009 4:39 PM

Highlights from the Federal Reserve's survey of economic conditions nationwide. The survey, released Wednesday and known as the Beige Book, is based on information collected from the Fed's 12 regional bank districts.

BOSTON

(This region covers Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and part of Connecticut.)

Economy flashed signs of improvement. Some companies are beginning to hire or reverse wage cuts or freezes. Retailers reported mixed results as shoppers are somewhat cautious. In manufacturing, biopharmaceutical companies said revenues increased, and some equipment makers said sales picked up from depressed levels. Some businesses wondered whether recent economic improvements will last, although most expect the recovery to become more rooted in 2010.

NEW YORK

(This region covers New York and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey.)

Further signs of economic improvements were reported. Retail sales grew. Auto dealers said sales rebounded briskly in recent weeks after a brief drop-off once the government's Cash for Clunkers program ended. Tourism in New York City picked up. Manhattan hotels' occupancy rates beat last year's levels. Broadway theaters reported a "pronounced pickup" in attendance as well as revenue. Manufacturers reported steady to increasing production, and improvements in general business conditions. Commercial real estate markets _ both office and industrial _ have been steady to moderately weaker. Housing market was mixed, although the high end of the market was weaker. Bankers reported rising delinquency rates on both home mortgage and commercial loans.

PHILADELPHIA

(This region covers Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

Economic conditions were mixed. Manufacturers reported an increase in shipments and a "steady rate" of new orders. Demand grew for food products, clothing, furniture, chemicals and electrical equipment, but fell for makers of wood, metal and industrial products. Retailers said shoppers appeared more willing to spend, although they are focused on "basics" and "good value." Sales of big-ticket home goods remained weak. Car sales improved somewhat, although dealer closings continued. Housing should continue to pick up, but commercial real estate activity will stay weak.

CLEVELAND

(This region covers Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.)

Economic conditions were little changed, with activity described as "sluggish" and the recovery "fragile." Factory production was flat or up slightly. Car production rose "modestly" as dealers restock depleted inventories. Steel shipments met expectations but growth is expected to be slow in the months ahead. Retailers said sales were flat or logged small improvements, with similar expectations going into 2010. Car sales slowed. New-home sales grew slowly and commercial and industrial construction was "very sluggish."

RICHMOND

(This region covers Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of West Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina.)

Economic conditions were mixed. Retail sales picked up, with sales of toys and electronics showing gains. Big-ticket items fell, but sales of new and used cars rose, especially for foreign brands. Manufacturing activity "stalled." Hard-to-get credit limited customers' ability to place orders, according to a furniture maker, a textile mill producer and others. In services, revenue didn't shrink as much. Home sales improved largely driven by the government's homebuyer tax credit. House prices continued to drag. Commercial real estate stayed "depressed" and potential clients often "burn out" due to lack of confidence in the economy. Employment agencies reported stronger demand for temporary workers. The skills in greatest demand were: information technology, distribution center workers, sales and office support, and nurses aides and assistants.

ATLANTA

(This region covers Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.)

Activity was mixed. Retail sales were better than expected, but auto dealers reported "dismal" sales and traffic. Tourism spending was "sluggish," but the outlook was good because year-end bookings topped expectations. Home sales rose from a year ago, with government aid helping to drive sales at the low end of the market. Potential buyers had trouble qualifying for home loans. Commercial real estate activity declined. Layoffs continued, although at a slower pace. Overall manufacturing activity slipped, though at a slower pace. Roughly one-third of manufacturers said orders increased in October. But transportation companies reported weak freight demand.

CHICAGO

(This region covers Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois and Indiana.)

Overall business activity edged up. Auto sales increased. Sales of clothing and entertainment goods improved, although overall retail sales reports were mixed. However, merchants were more optimistic about holiday sales, with people showing more interest in big-ticket goods like furniture and household appliances. Business spending was flat, expect for an increase in temporary hires. Manufacturing activity leveled off as companies' restocking of depleted inventories slowed. Home sales improved helped by the government's tax credit. Commercial real estate conditions deteriorated. In agriculture, rain continued to hamper the harvest, especially for corn. Milk and hog prices were up some but cattle prices lagged.

ST. LOUIS

(This region covers Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky, and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi.)

Economic activity _while weak _ showed signs of improvement in some areas. Retail sales fell, but car sales rose. Manufacturing activity declined at a slower pace. Makers of rubber tires, food and beverages, packaging materials, cars, furniture and plastics all boosted production. Makers of electrical equipment, glass and aluminum product plan to open new plants and hire. But makers of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, as well as copper tubing, appliances and lumber said demand was weaker and laid off workers. Home sales dropped. Commercial real estate markets struggled. Rain delayed harvests.

MINNEAPOLIS

(This region covers Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.)

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Economic activity rose slightly. Retail spending was stable, and tourism conditions were mixed. Manufacturing activity grew. A gun barrel producer plans to open a new plant in South Dakota. An electric heater maker in North Dakota is slowly increasing production Activity in services, energy, mining and housing all logged "moderate" increases. Commercial real estate activity fell, and retail vacancies rose.

KANSAS CITY, Mo.

(This region covers Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and New Mexico.)

Activity expanded "modestly." Retail sales increased _ supported by heavy discounting of merchandise. Sales of mid-priced appliances were brisk. Some jewelers reported higher sales. Auto dealers said sales were stable and were optimistic about prospects going forward. Manufacturing activity grew modestly, with the outlook generally optimistic. Sales and capital spending in the high-tech services and transportation sectors grew. The housing market continued to recover, helped by the government's homebuyer credit. Sales were strongest in the low end of the market, while sales of luxury homes were "anemic." Commercial real estate remained weak. Energy activity rose slightly. In agriculture, grain prices have risen. Cattle and hog prices edged up but are still below break-even prices because of rising feed costs.

DALLAS

(This region covers Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana.)

Economic activity firmed. High-tech, paper, petrochemicals and food manufacturers said demand grew. Retailers saw signs of stabilization. More affluent shoppers spent more, while discounters saw better sales of clothing, housewares and TVs. Home sales picked up, helped by the government's tax credit. Commercial real estate was weak. In energy, the outlook is uncertain. Natural gas-related drilling _ while improving _ was weak, and inventories are at record levels. Oil drilling is not expected to see a lot of momentum. Conditions improved for cattle producers. Harvest of cotton, corn, peanuts and sorghum moved ahead at a normal pace.

SAN FRANCISCO

(This region covers California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.)

Economic activity picked up modestly. Retail sales were weak, although sellers of furniture and household appliances saw demand improve. Car sales were weak. Manufacturing activity grew. Makers of semiconductors and other technology products saw demand strengthen. Food makers said orders and sales were strong. But makers of wood and fabricated metal products said demand was weak. Housing picked up, but a rise in foreclosed properties is expected to hold down construction activity. Commercial real estate activity deteriorated. Sales of agricultural products _ including livestock _ grew solidly.