Interest Rate Roundup

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beige book looks blue

The Beige Book report, just released by the Federal Reserve, doesn't tell a very happy tale about the U.S. economy. In fact, I'd call it downright "blue." A few excerpts with my emphasis added:

From the summary of the overall economy ...

"Residential real estate markets declined or were still weak across most of the country. Commercial real estate activity also slowed or remained sluggish in a majority of Districts, although a few Districts noted slight improvement. In banking, loan growth was generally reported to be restrained, with residential real estate lending and consumer lending showing more weakness than commercial lending. Districts reporting on agricultural activity said conditions were mixed, based largely on how June precipitation affected them. Districts reporting on the energy sector said it continued to strengthen.

All reporting Districts characterized overall price pressures as elevated or increasing. Input prices continued to rise, particularly for fuel, other petroleum-based materials, metals, food, and chemicals. Retail price inflation varied across the country, with some Districts reporting increases but others noting some stability, at least for the present."

From a section on consumer spending ...

"Consumer spending was reported as mixed, weak, or slowing in nearly all Districts since the last report, although tax rebate checks boosted sales for some items, especially electronics ... Sales at discount stores were also reported as growing in the Philadelphia, Richmond, St. Louis, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts, and New York reported brisk sales in New York City. However, sales at most other types of stores, especially for discretionary and housing-related items, were typically characterized as weak or falling, and restaurant sales were also reported as slow in the Philadelphia and Minneapolis Districts. The outlook for retail activity was also generally downbeat, with expectations "subdued" among Atlanta District contacts and "grim" among Dallas District contacts.

From a section on commercial real estate ...

"Commercial real estate activity weakened or remained sluggish in a majority of Districts, although Cleveland, Minneapolis, and Kansas City noted some improvement. Boston characterized sentiment in the sector as "decidedly morose," and industrial markets were especially weak in that District. Office market conditions in the Richmond District continued to weaken and were "bleak" in the Washington, DC area. Vacancy rates increased in the Philadelphia and Atlanta Districts, and were up noticeably in both Midtown and Downtown Manhattan, according to contacts in the New York District. Office rents remained steady in the Philadelphia District, and were little changed in the Boston District after taking concessions into account. More positively, contacts in the Minneapolis District noted rent increases and positive absorption in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area office market. Districts reporting on nonresidential construction generally noted sluggishness, which contacts in the Chicago and Kansas City Districts attributed in part to prohibitively high construction costs. Contractors in the Cleveland District were also worried about cuts but reported strong backlogs and a steady flow of inquiries. Contacts in many Districts also cited tightened financing as a constraint. San Francisco noted particularly steep drops in commercial construction in the San Diego area. Retail space was described as overbuilt in the Boston and Chicago Districts."

From a section on loan quality and loan standards ...

"Most Districts reported a further tightening of credit standards, especially for residential real estate and construction loans. Dallas reported that lenders were tightening non-price terms and boosting loan spreads in response to increases in their cost of capital. Tighter standards for construction loans were reported in the Atlanta and Chicago Districts, and San Francisco indicated that credit standards remained quite restrictive for both residential real estate and construction loans. Tighter standards for business loans were reported in three Districts, but banks in the Atlanta District were reported to be competing more intensely for business customers with good credit histories. Kansas City and Boston reported that tightened standards were especially prevalent on commercial real estate loans.

"Among the Districts that commented on bank loan quality, some deterioration was reported, including in the Philadelphia, Richmond and San Francisco Districts. New York reported increased delinquencies on consumer and residential real estate loans, and San Francisco indicated that declines in loan quality were greatest for real estate loans and construction loans. In the Dallas District, contacts had not yet observed a significant decline in loan quality but expected deterioration in coming months, especially for residential real estate and consumer loans."

The immediate impact of the Beige Book's release was a minor downtick in stocks. But we quickly reverted back to the tick-for-tick inverse relationship with crude oil, whereby stocks go up every time oil ticks down.


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