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  • Writer's pictureStephen H Akin

FRB Beige Book

The Beige Book is a Federal Reserve System publication about current economic conditions

across the 12 Federal Reserve Districts. It characterizes regional economic conditions and prospects based on a variety of mostly qualitative information, gathered directly from each District’s sources. Reports are published eight times per year.


The Beige Book is intended to characterize the change in economic conditions since the last report. Outreach for the Beige Book is one of many ways the Federal Reserve System engages with businesses and other organizations about economic developments in their communities. Because this information is collected from a wide range of contacts through a variety of formal and informal methods, the Beige Book can complement other forms of regional information gathering. The Beige Book is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials.


National Summary


Overall Economic Activity

A majority of the twelve Federal Reserve Districts reported little or no change in economic activity since the prior Beige Book period. Of the four Districts that differed, three reported modest growth and one reported a moderate decline. Consumers delivered some seasonal relief over the holi- days by meeting expectations in most Districts and by exceeding expectations in three Districts, including in New York, which noted strong holiday spending on apparel, toys, and sporting goods. In addition, seasonal demand lifted airfreight volume from ecommerce in Richmond and credit card lending in Philadelphia. Several Districts noted increased leisure travel, and a tourism contact described New York City as bustling. Contacts from nearly all Districts reported decreases in manufacturing activity. Districts continued to note that high interest rates were limiting auto sales and real estate deals; however, the prospect of falling interest rates was cited by numerous con- tacts in various sectors as a source of optimism. In contrast, concerns about the office market, weakening overall demand, and the 2024 political cycle were often cited as sources of economic uncertainty. Overall, most Districts indicated that expectations of their firms for future growth were positive, had improved, or both.


Labor Markets

Seven Districts described little or no net change in overall employment levels, while the pace of job growth was described as modest to moderate in four Districts. Two Districts continued to note a tight labor market, and several described hiring challenges for firms seeking specialty skills, such as auto mechanics or experienced engineers in the Boston and San Francisco Districts, respectively. However, nearly all Districts cited one or more signs of a cooling labor market, such as larger applicant pools, lower turnover rates, more selective hiring by firms, and easing wage pressures. The pace of wage growth was characterized as moderate in Boston, Richmond, Chicago, and Dallas; as modest in New York and Philadelphia; and as slight in St. Louis. Firms from many Districts expected wage pressures to ease and wage growth to fall further over the next year.

Note: This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia based on information collected on or before January 8, 2024. This document summarizes comments received from contacts outside the Federal Reserve System and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials.


Prices

Six Districts noted that their contacts had reported slight or modest price increases, and two noted moderate increases. Five Districts also noted that overall price increases had subsided to some degree from the prior period, while three others indicated no significant shift in price pres- sures. Firms in most Districts cited examples of steady or falling input prices, especially in the manufacturing and construction sectors, and more discounting by auto dealers. Districts also noted that increased consumer price sensitivity had forced retailers to narrow their profit margins and to push back in turn on their suppliers’ efforts to raise prices. Premium increases for property and casualty insurance and for health insurance continue to impact most firms. Three Districts noted that their firms were expecting price increases to ease further over the next year, while four Districts’ firms anticipated little change.


Highlights by Federal Reserve District Boston

Economic activity was down slightly. Employment was stable, and wage growth was moderate. Manufacturers reported mostly weaker sales but remained cautiously optimistic for 2024. The Boston area experienced strong growth in tourism and convention activity. Home sales stayed in the doldrums, but contacts expressed optimism that the market would rebound in 2024 pending a decline in home mortgage rates.


New York

Regional economic activity declined slightly. Labor market conditions remained solid but continued to cool as the demand for labor softened. Led by a strong holiday season, consumer spending increased moderately. Manufacturing activity contracted sharply. Prices rose modestly. Businesses and households across the District expressed concern about the high cost and reduced availability of credit.


Philadelphia

Business activity held steady during the current Beige Book period—after falling for most of 2023. Employment grew slightly, and labor availability improved. Wage and price inflation subsided fur- ther, with prices rising at a slight pace as consumers pushed back more on higher prices, espe- cially among lower-income households. Sentiment improved, but firms remained cautious and expectations for economic growth remained subdued.


Cleveland

District business activity edged up. Employment stabilized, and wage increases returned to more typical levels. Cost and price pressures changed little after easing through much of 2023, though upward price pressure persisted in certain industries. Retailers reported strong sales for dis- counted items, and consumers became more reliant on “buy now, pay later” payment options.


Richmond

The regional economy grew mildly in recent weeks as consumer spending was flat to increasing modestly. Nonfinancial services demand and commercial real estate activity was little changed. Meanwhile, trade and trucking volumes were down modestly and residential housing sales and mortgage lending softened. Employment and wages rose moderately and inflation moderated but remained elevated.


Atlanta

Economic activity grew at a slow pace. Labor markets cooled further, and wage pressures eased. Some nonlabor input costs moderated. Retail sales were mixed. Travel activity remained strong, but spending at hotels declined. Home sales slowed, on balance. Banking conditions were mixed. Transportation activity was sluggish. Energy demand was robust.


Chicago

Economic activity in the Seventh District was up modestly. Employment increased moderately; non- business contacts saw a modest increase in activity; consumer spending was up slightly; con- struction and real estate and business spending were flat; and manufacturing decreased mod- estly. Prices and wages rose moderately, while financial conditions loosened modestly. Net farm incomes were above average in 2023.


St. Louis

Economic activity has remained unchanged since our previous report. Labor markets eased, and the rate of price increases for many firms has slowed over the past few months. Travel and hospi- tality firms reported strong leisure travel growth during the holiday season and an optimistic out- look for the upcoming year. Rental prices were flat and residential inventory rose slightly.


Minneapolis

District economic activity was down slightly. Hiring was positive but job postings declined. Wage pressures continued to moderate, approaching pre-pandemic conditions. Price increases were mild, with most firms reporting no change in input or final prices. Holiday sales and traffic were generally strong, but construction and manufacturing activity decreased.


Kansas City

Economic activity in the Tenth District declined moderately. Consumer spending fell, even at low- cost quick-serve restaurants. Demand for seasonal employment was low, with few workers con- verting to full-time. Commercial real estate transactions were suppressed, while CRE loan modifi- cation activity was inhibited by lenders’ concerns about credit performance and borrower liquidity.


Dallas

Economic activity expanded at a modest pace over the reporting period, with most sectors holding steady or experiencing slight growth. Wage growth moderated and input cost and selling price growth held slightly above average overall. Business outlooks were neutral to pessimistic, with contacts citing weakening demand as the primary concern going forward.


San Francisco

Economic activity was stable overall. Labor availability improved, and wage and price pressures eased. Retail sales grew modestly, and demand for services was mixed. Demand for manufactured products weakened, while conditions in agriculture were solid. Real estate activity varied by prop- erty type. Financial sector conditions changed little.


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