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New York
St. Louis
Kansas City
San Francisco

Full report

Prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and based on information collected before April 5, 2010. This document summarizes comments received from business and other contacts outside the Federal Reserve System and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials.

Overall economic activity increased somewhat since the last report across all Federal Reserve Districts except St. Louis, which reported "softened" economic conditions. Districts generally reported increases in retail sales and vehicle sales. Tourism spending was up in a number of Districts. Reports on the services sector were generally mixed. Manufacturing activity increased in all Districts except St. Louis, and new orders were up. Many Districts reported increased activity in housing markets from low levels. Commercial real estate market activity remained very weak in most Districts. Activity in the banking and finance sector was mixed in a number of Districts, as loan volumes and credit quality decreased. Agricultural conditions were mixed as well, with positive conditions reported in Districts from the central and western parts of the country, while negative conditions were reported in the mid and southern Atlantic Districts. Mining and energy production and exploration increased for metals, oil and wind.

While labor markets generally remained weak, some hiring activity was evident, particularly for temporary staff. Wage pressures were characterized as minimal or contained. Retail prices generally remained level, but some input prices increased.

Consumer Spending and Tourism
District reports indicated that consumer spending increased during the reporting period. New York and Cleveland reported that recent sales strengthened, while sales rebounded in Richmond and Kansas City. Slight sales gains were reported in Philadelphia. Retail sales in San Francisco continued to improve, but remained somewhat sluggish on net. In St. Louis several new establishments opened, particularly in the food industry. Several Districts described consumers as somewhat more confident. Businesses were cautiously optimistic regarding future sales: Cleveland, Atlanta, Kansas City and Dallas noted that retailers expect sales to improve during the upcoming months. Sales of home furnishings and electronic goods increased in a number of Districts, while seasonal apparel sales were up in New York, Philadelphia and Kansas City. New York and Minneapolis noted that shopping by Canadians was strong at businesses near the border. Atlanta reported that retailers continued to keep inventory levels lower than normal, and retailers in New York reported that inventories are in very good shape.

Vehicle sales improved in a number of Districts during March. New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco noted that auto sales picked up in recent weeks. Cleveland described sales as decent, while sales were steady in Kansas City and mixed in Richmond. Several Districts noted that favorable pricing and credit terms helped lure buyers into showrooms. Dealers in Philadelphia indicated that they expect sales to increase during the next few months.

Tourism conditions also improved during the reporting period. New York, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco pointed to signs of increased tourism activity. Tourism was described as stable in most parts of the Atlanta District. Hotel occupancy rates were rising in New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and San Francisco. Reports on room rates were mixed: New York and Kansas City noted increases, while Chicago reported rate cuts, particularly at luxury hotels. Managers at mountain resorts in the Richmond District reported that this winter was one of their best ski seasons ever. However, Atlanta noted that corporate bookings remained at very low levels at some high-end resorts.

Nonfinancial Services
Business services were mixed, with some signs of economic recovery. Boston and Minneapolis reported increased activity. Richmond and Dallas were mixed, while San Francisco said demand remained lackluster. St. Louis reported that the sector continued to decline. Advertising and consulting firms in Boston said demand is up substantially from the first quarter of 2009, while an advertising contact in Richmond and professional media services firms in San Francisco characterized sales as flat at low levels. Dallas reported sluggish demand for nontax-related accounting and legal services. Law firms in Minneapolis specializing in debt collections and bankruptcy saw strong demand, while a Richmond property manager noted a large number of repossessions.

Manufacturing activity increased since the last report across most of the country, with all Districts other than St. Louis reporting increases in orders, shipments, or production. Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco reported positive results in metals and fabrication. Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta and Chicago reported increased auto or auto component production. Boston, Richmond, Dallas, and San Francisco saw increased production in electronic, computers or high-technology goods. Chicago and Minneapolis saw increased production of energy-related products. However, for construction-related goods, Chicago and Dallas reported mixed conditions, Boston reported flat activity and St. Louis reported decreases. Overall, St. Louis saw more plant closures than plant openings.

Banking and Finance
Bank lending activity was mixed by category in most Districts. Atlanta, St. Louis and Kansas City saw weaker loan demand across categories, while activity in San Francisco was flat at low levels and Dallas said that demand appears to be stabilizing. Demand for consumer credit decreased in New York and increased slightly in Philadelphia. Most banks in Cleveland reported weak consumer loan demand, although a few contacts saw a slight increase due to seasonal factors. Business and industrial loan volumes decreased in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago and were flat in New York. San Francisco noted continued modest gains in venture capital funding.

Credit standards remained generally unchanged across the nation, while credit quality was mixed. New York, Cleveland and Kansas City reported tighter lending standards for commercial mortgages. In Atlanta several business contacts reported difficulty getting credit. Dallas and San Francisco said standards continued to be tight. New York saw increased delinquency rates for all categories except consumer loans, which were flat. Philadelphia and Richmond saw little change in credit quality, while Cleveland was mixed. Dallas reported that credit quality was either stabilizing or improving, and appeared to have turned a corner. Chicago noted an improvement in consumer and business loan quality, although credit quality for many small firms continued to decline.

Real Estate and Construction
Residential real estate activity increased, albeit from low levels, in most Districts, with the exceptions of St. Louis, where it was mixed, and San Francisco, where it was flat. Contacts in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Kansas City expressed concern about whether sales would continue to grow after the expiration of the first-time home buyer tax credit. New York, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco noted sluggish sales for high-end homes. Home prices were stable across most Districts, but decreased in parts of the New York and Atlanta Districts. Residential construction activity increased slightly in New York, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis and Dallas, but remained weak in Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco.

Commercial real estate activity was slow across the nation. Notable exceptions were Richmond, which saw an uptick in commercial leasing, and Dallas, where the sector was mixed and might be nearing bottom. In Boston, leasing activity consists largely of renewals, with many renewing tenants leasing less space. Manhattan Class A office rents were down 20 percent to 25 percent year over year. Contacts in Philadelphia, Richmond, Kansas City and Dallas expressed concern that lease concessions from landlords were putting downward pressure on rents. Commercial construction continued to be weak in most Districts. Cleveland saw some development in the energy and industrial segments.

Agriculture and Natural Resources
Districts reported mixed results in agriculture. Atlanta reported that cold weather negatively affected crop conditions. Richmond, Kansas City, and Dallas noted that wet conditions delayed planting, though Dallas also commented that current soil moisture levels will be beneficial for the growing season. Chicago expected a normal planting schedule. Minneapolis and San Francisco indicated favorable weather conditions. The calving season is doing well in the Minneapolis District, but Chicago and Minneapolis noted softening dairy output prices.

Activity in the energy and mining sectors increased since the last report. Philadelphia, Atlanta, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco saw increases in oil exploration. Coal production was mixed in the Philadelphia District and increased in the Kansas City District. In the Minneapolis District, more wind energy projects are planned, and mining activity increased.

Employment, Wages, and Prices
While overall labor markets remained weak, some hiring activity was evident, particularly for temporary staff. Employment in the manufacturing and services sectors in Boston remained relatively unchanged, while very little hiring occurred at major legal and financial firms in New York. In the Richmond District, job cuts subsided at retail businesses, and employment was stable at most other services firms. In Kansas City overall employment levels held steady, but more manufacturers and several energy-related firms planned to increase payrolls. Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, and Chicago reported strong demand for temporary workers. A pickup in employment was noted in the manufacturing sector by Cleveland, with little change in staffing for retail, energy, transportation and banking. Atlanta noted that many businesses continued to increase hours worked for existing staff. Minneapolis reported that while labor markets remained weak, some signs of hiring were noted.

Wage pressures were characterized as minimal or contained. In Boston, most firms reported instituting or planning to institute modest wage increases of 2 percent to 3 percent in 2010, while performance bonuses in the services sector were generally down. Richmond reported that average wages edged higher in March in the services sector, but declined slightly in manufacturing. Most companies hiring new workers in the Kansas City District were not offering higher salaries to attract qualified applicants. Dallas reported that just a handful of firms were planning on partially reinstating employer matches to retirement plans or giving small pay increases. In Chicago wage pressures were minimal; however, an increase in health-care costs was noted. San Francisco also reported significant increases in the costs of employee benefits, such as health insurance and pensions.

Retail prices generally remained level, but some input prices increased. Where producers faced cost pressures on inputs, they were largely unable to pass those prices downstream to selling prices, although in Kansas City some manufacturers were considering raising selling prices due to higher raw materials costs. In Boston retail vendor and selling prices were stable. Philadelphia reported that prices of most goods and services have been steady, although there were increased reports of rising prices for basic materials and construction-related products. Apart from rising prices for steel and petroleum-based products in Cleveland, raw materials and product pricing were generally stable. Richmond noted moderate price increases in the manufacturing and services sectors. Chicago reported upward pressure on prices for plywood, industrial metals and petroleum-based fuels. In the Dallas District prices of chemicals and related products rose sharply, primarily due to plant outages. Natural gas prices slipped during the reporting period because of continued high levels of production, low industrial demand and the end of the winter season. Richmond and San Francisco reported increased overseas shipping costs.

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Last update: April 14, 2010