Call it more of the same. Beige Book results, technically known as “Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by Federal Reserve District,” released Wednesday, September 8, confirm slower economic growth on balance from mid-July through the end of August. The reports from Boston and Cleveland pointed to positive developments or net improvements compared with the previous reporting period.
However, the remaining Districts of New York, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, and Chicago all highlighted mixed conditions or deceleration in overall economic activity.
“Nothing in the report was really surprising,” says Tim Harder, chief investment officer with Denver-based Peak Capital Investment Services, LLC. “The only real negative was in the real estate and construction sector, but that was expected from all the home buying data recently released. The big thing was that there was no sign of a double-dip recession, and we’re improving incrementally. This means the Fed won’t be forced to significantly alter their monetary policy.”
Consumer spending appeared to increase despite continued caution that limited nonessential purchases, while activity in the travel and tourism sector picked up relative to seasonal norms. Activity was largely stable or up slightly for professional and other nonfinancial services. Reports on manufacturing activity pointed to further expansion, although the pace of growth eased according to several districts. Agricultural producers and extractors of natural resources reported continued gains in demand and sales. Home sales slowed further following an initial drop after the expiration of the homebuyer tax credit at the end of June, prompting a slowdown in construction activity as well.
Demand for commercial real estate remained weak, but showed signs of stabilization in some areas. Reports from financial institutions pointed to generally stable or slightly lower loan demand and noted some modest improvements in credit quality.
Upward price pressures remained limited for most categories of final goods and services, despite higher prices for selected commodities such as grains and some industrial materials. Wage pressures also were limited, although a few Districts noted increased upward pressures in a narrow set of sectors experiencing a mismatch between job requirements and applicant skills.
“We’re telling our clients that this is no time to be conservative,” Harder adds. “Valuations are reasonable and there seems to be an earnings-floor right around 10,000 in the market, so stocks won’t get too cheap. Remember, high unemployment is bad for employees, but not necessarily bad for investors. We had similar unemployment conditions in 1982, and went on a 17-year economic expansion soon after, so there’s some good in the bad.”