Fed Beige Book in October, growth is tepid, employment is worse

The Fed Beige Book report has come out with no real "news". Much of what was already known Bernanke already spoke about considering the lag which this report comes with. But I thought it would be interesting to highlight some the more relevant nuggets, via FRB:

On Inflation

Input costs, most notably for agricultural commodities and industrial metals, rose further. Shipping rates increased, and retailers in some Districts noted rising wholesale prices. However, prices of final goods and services were mostly stable as higher input costs were not passed on to consumers.
On Housing

Housing markets remained weak. Most District Beige Book reports suggested overall home sales were sluggish or declining and were below year-ago levels. There were scattered reports of some improvement in sales in a few Districts, however. Philadelphia noted an increase in sales of existing homes, and Richmond, Kansas City, and Dallas reported upticks in sales of higher-priced homes. Sales reports were mixed in the St. Louis and Minneapolis Districts, with increases in some metro areas and declines in others. Home inventories were elevated or rising according to most District reports. Home prices were generally stable since the last report, although Kansas City noted a decrease in prices, and New York and Minneapolis reported declines in some metros. Homebuilders in the Atlanta District reported downward price pressure and expressed concern about rising foreclosures and bank-owned properties coming to market.

Single-family construction activity was at very low levels, but had improved somewhat in the Chicago, St. Louis, and Kansas City Districts. Atlanta reported a softening of construction activity overall, and Minneapolis said single-family building activity was mixed across metros. Builders in the Dallas District said they had pulled back on starts considerably after the run-up earlier in the year.

Energy 

The energy sector continued to expand, with activity rising further in the Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco Districts. The Minneapolis District reported that mines were operating near capacity, and coal production was robust in the Cleveland and Kansas City Districts. Firms in the Dallas District noted strong domestic land-based drilling and a pickup in overseas demand had offset losses resulting from the moratorium in the Gulf of Mexico. The Cleveland and Kansas City Districts reported that strong activity had prompted hiring and an increase in capital spending at some energy firms. Respondents' outlooks were mostly positive, although low natural gas prices had dampened the outlook for producers in the Cleveland and Dallas Districts.

Prices and Wages

Input costs rose slightly, but prices of final goods and services were stable across Districts. Upward pressures on agricultural commodities and industrial metals prices were reported by several Districts. In addition, shipping costs increased in the Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Dallas Districts, and retailers in the Philadelphia and Chicago Districts reported higher wholesale prices. Pass-through of rising input costs to final prices remained limited although there were scattered reports of increases. Prices of petrochemicals rose in the Dallas District, and a few manufacturers in the Boston District said recent price increases on some of their products had been successful. Some manufacturers in the Atlanta District noted rising costs of materials and employee benefits would likely be passed on to customers in the near-term, and several manufacturers in the Cleveland District announced plans to raise product prices in an attempt to recover rising costs. In response to rising food costs, food producers in the Dallas District reported plans to raise prices, and menu prices at restaurants rose modestly in the Kansas City District.

On the Job situation

Hiring remained limited, with many firms reluctant to add to permanent payrolls given economic softness. Reports from staffing firms were mixed. Staffing firms in the New York and Dallas Districts noted a slowdown in demand for their services, and contacts in the Cleveland District said new job openings declined. Richmond's report noted demand for temporary workers picked up slightly since the last report, and staffing contacts in the Philadelphia District said clients were adding positions as workloads increased. The Atlanta report noted a preference for increasing staff hours and using temporary help rather than hiring additional full-time staff.  Hiring at manufacturing firms remained sluggish. 

Wage pressures remained minimal. Most District reports found little evidence of wage increases in general. There were widespread reports across Districts that firms anticipated increased costs of employee benefits as a result of healthcare reform.

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