Interest Rate Roundup

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Beige Book: The economy stinks ... again

I used that headline before, minus the word "again." I think it's time to dust it off and throw it up here on the blog again. I say that because the latest Fed Beige Book goes on for page after page, talking about how horrid the economy is (in Fed-speak, of course). Here are a few of the more interesting excerpts on ..

The big picture:

"Ten of the twelve reports indicated weaker conditions or declines in economic activity; the exceptions were Philadelphia and Chicago, which reported that their regional economies "remained weak." The deterioration was broad based, with only a few sectors such as basic food production and pharmaceuticals appearing to be exceptions. Looking ahead, contacts from various Districts rate the prospects for near-term improvement in economic conditions as poor, with a significant pickup not expected before late 2009 or early 2010."

Consumer spending:

"Sales of luxury goods such as jewelry, electronic equipment, and other big ticket items were reported to be especially slow in the Philadelphia, Richmond, and Chicago Districts. Demand for furniture, appliances, and other durable household items remained quite depressed, according to Kansas City and San Francisco. Sales of new automobiles and light trucks remained exceptionally sluggish, with Philadelphia, Richmond, and Kansas City reporting further declines from an already slow pace of sales."

Dining out and travelling:

"Travel and tourist activity continued to fall in most areas, as households reduced their vacation travel and corporate travel spending was scaled back. Tourist visits and spending were reported to be slower than in the previous reporting period or down from twelve months earlier for major tourist destinations in the Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis, New York, and San Francisco Districts, with the declines in the latter two characterized as "substantial" and "sharp," respectively. Airline traffic fell in the Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts. Business at restaurants dropped substantially in some areas, notably in the Kansas City and San Francisco Districts, with extensive layoffs and restaurant closures reported in the latter."

Temporary help and transportation:

"Demand for staffing services weakened considerably. Boston reported that outcomes for providers of temporary staffing services were "dismal," with revenue declines in the range of 20 to 50 percent compared with twelve months earlier. Chicago and Dallas also reported sizable declines in activity by staffing firms, and New York noted that activity by a major employment agency has "virtually ground to a halt."

"Demand for shipping and transportation services fell further. New York, Cleveland, Richmond, and Atlanta reported reduced activity and layoffs among trucking and rail companies, with the decline in activity described as considerable in some cases. Richmond also reported that shipping activity through ports in that District slowed further, as imports and exports both continued on a downward trend."


"Manufacturing activity fell on net in all Districts, with very sharp declines recorded for some sectors and only partial offsets provided by the few bright spots. Cleveland reported a drop in overall factory output of about 25 percent compared with twelve months earlier. For most Districts, the drop in activity was especially pronounced for makers of capital goods and construction-related equipment and materials, such as primary metals, wood products, and electrical equipment, along with consumer durables such as autos and furniture. Manufacturers of computers, semiconductors, and other IT products saw further declines in production and orders in the Dallas and San Francisco Districts. Slower export sales were cited as a source of weakness for various manufacturing sectors by the Atlanta, Chicago, and Kansas City Districts."

Residential and commercial real estate:

"Residential real estate markets remained in the doldrums in most areas, with only scattered, very tentative signs of stabilization reported. The pace of sales remained very low in most areas and declined further in some; most Districts reported small declines, but New York cited a sales drop of 60 to 65 percent in Manhattan compared with twelve months earlier. By contrast, Cleveland, Richmond, Dallas, and San Francisco each reported a rising or better-than-expected sales pace for existing or new homes in some areas, attributed largely to falling prices and improved financing terms for some types of home mortgages. House prices continued to decline, reportedly at double-digit paces in some areas, with little or no signs of a deceleration evident. Builders in various Districts generally remain pessimistic regarding recovery prospects this year, and consequently the pace of new home construction declined further in most areas.

"Demand for commercial, industrial, and retail space fell further during the reporting period, with some evidence of more rapid deterioration than in preceding periods. Vacancy rates rose and lease rates declined on a widespread basis; New York noted that commercial real estate markets "weakened noticeably," while Atlanta described reports on commercial real estate that were "decidedly more negative" than in previous periods. Construction activity has declined commensurately, and assorted reports suggest that market participants expect this weakness to continue at least through the end of 2009. Cleveland noted that public works projects have shown stability of late, although they declined in the San Francisco District as a result of the budgetary struggles of some state and local governments there. Credit constraints and uncertainty were reported to be a drag on commercial construction and leasing activity in the Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts."


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