Fed Says Economic Activity Continues to Increase at Modest Pace

According to the Federal Reserve’s beige book report, economic activity continued to increase at a modest to moderate pace in October and mid-November. Additionally, there was a slight improvement in the outlook among contacts in reporting districts.

Pre-holiday reports of consumer spending on retail and autos were mixed but largely flat, but the outlook for holiday sales was generally optimistic. Many districts highlighted growth in the transportation sector, although the New York district reported a slight softening and the San Francisco district noted that Northern California wildfires temporarily reduced shipping volumes.

Residential real estate activity remained constrained, with most districts reporting little growth in sales or construction. By contrast, nonresidential activity was consistent with previous reports of slight growth. Loan demand was steady to moderately stronger. All districts reported that manufacturing activity expanded during the reporting period, with most describing growth as moderate. Among reporting districts, manufacturing contacts predominantly expected activity to continue to pick up, although the Philadelphia and St. Louis districts noted signs of a slowdown.

Employment growth has increased since the previous report, with most districts characterizing growth as modest to moderate. Reports of tightness in the labor market were widespread. Most districts reported employers were having difficulty finding qualified workers across various skill levels, and several districts reported that an inability to find workers with the required skills was a key factor restraining hiring plans. Wage growth was modest or moderate in most districts. Wage increases were most notable for professional, technical and production positions which remain difficult to fill. Many districts reported employers were raising wages as well as increasing their use of signing bonuses and other nonwage benefits to retain or attract employees.

Price pressures have strengthened since the last report. Most districts reported modest to moderate growth in selling prices and moderate increases in non-labor input costs. In particular, construction material costs rose in most regions, with many districts citing increased lumber costs and/or increases in demand for materials due to hurricane rebuilding efforts. Residential real estate prices generally increased as well. There were also reports of increases in costs in the transportation sector. Additionally, several districts noted input cost increases in manufacturing. In many cases, these increases in transportation and manufacturing were passed through to consumers. Fuel prices also rose, with multiple districts reporting upward pressure on oil and natural gas prices. However, agricultural price pressures remain mixed.

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