October 12, 2006
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Prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and based on information collected before October 2, 2006. This document summarizes comments received from businesses and other contacts outside the Federal Reserve and is not a commentary of the views of Federal Reserve officials.
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicate that economic activity continued to expand since the last report. Four Districts reported that economic growth firmed while a couple of Districts noted that growth cooled. Other reports generally characterized growth as moderate or mixed.
Consumer spending increased more quickly in a number of Districts, although several reports continued to note that automobile and home-related sales were sluggish. Tourism was generally strong and added some momentum in the New York and Kansas City Districts. Activity in the service sector expanded in most Districts, but Boston described activity as flat and Cleveland and Dallas identified pockets of softness in some industries. Manufacturing conditions generally held up well, with several Districts indicating that growth increased, though Philadelphia reported that activity edged down. Commercial construction gained strength in most of the country. Reports on residential real estate, however, indicated widespread cooling with the majority of Districts citing lower asking prices, rising inventories of homes on the market and softening sales. A number of reports, however, indicated that residential activity increased in some markets. Financial institutions continued to report that residential mortgage lending had tapered off, but commercial lending activity picked up in several Districts. Agricultural conditions generally improved as rainfall brought relief to drought-stricken areas.
A number of Districts reported that labor markets were tight with some noting shortages of skilled workers. Wage pressures were associated with tightening conditions in a few Districts, though other reports noted that wage pressures were in check. While the majority of Districts characterized price pressures as contained, input prices increased in several Districts and a few reports mentioned increased pass throughs by businesses.
Consumer Spending and Tourism
Vehicle sales weakened in several Districts--particularly sales of domestic automobiles, SUVs and light trucks. However, a few Districts reported increased sales of foreign cars and fuel-efficient automobiles. Philadelphia noted that a growing number of smaller automobile dealerships had closed and dealers in the Atlanta District added incentives to move inventory. In the Dallas District, sales of luxury vehicles increased.
Tourist activity strengthened since our last report. New York said that tourism remained robust in New York City. Kansas City reported solid gains in hotel occupancy rates, while tourist activity in the San Francisco District remained at a high level despite some moderation. Tourism in the Richmond District was temporarily dented by Hurricane Ernesto in early September, but rebounded later in the month.
Construction and Real Estate
New York and St. Louis reported mixed housing activity. On the upside, Manhattan condominium sales showed signs of resilience, and housing sales rose in Memphis, but both Districts noted weakness in most markets. Richmond reported generally weaker housing activity, but also noted increases in some markets. Atlanta said that housing activity rose in its Mississippi Gulf market, and Minneapolis' Sioux Falls market remained on pace with last year's record-breaking level. Dallas reported particularly robust home sales in its Houston, Austin and El Paso markets.
Commercial real estate markets were strong in most Districts, and activity increased at a faster pace in a number. Leasing activity increased in New York, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas and San Francisco, and held steady in Richmond. Chicago and St. Louis, however, said leasing activity was mixed. Rent increases were reported by New York, Minneapolis and San Francisco, with Dallas indicating that pricing power was shifting to landlords.
Nonresidential construction was generally strong. Construction activity was steady in the Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Minneapolis and Kansas City Districts and increased in the Chicago and Dallas Districts. Material costs and budget concerns scaled back some projects in the Atlanta and Chicago Districts. The Chicago and Minneapolis reports noted concerns among some contacts that commercial construction may slow in the coming months.
Banking and Finance
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Activity in the energy industry remained strong according to reports from the Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco Districts. Minneapolis indicated that alternative energy industries continued to expand at a rapid pace and that mining production was at near-capacity across the District. Kansas City noted that oil and gas drilling rig counts remained above year-ago levels, while San Francisco said that oil and natural gas extraction continued at a rapid pace. In contrast, Dallas reported that activity in the oil and energy producing sector was virtually unchanged although demand for oil-field equipment and energy services remained strong.
Employment, Wages, Prices
Wage growth around the nation was generally modest, although faster wage growth for skilled services workers was cited by a number of Districts. The San Francisco District noted that a short supply of healthcare, finance and construction workers pushed wages higher. In addition, Richmond noted a sharp uptick in retail wages and Atlanta reported that some manufacturers had raised entry-level wages in an effort to attract workers.
Most Districts reported few signs of increased price pressures in recent weeks. A number of Districts said that energy prices moderated, but increases in raw materials prices were noted by Philadelphia, Richmond and Atlanta, and a rise in building materials prices was reported by Minneapolis. Instances of businesses passing on higher costs were scattered across Districts; Cleveland and Atlanta said some manufacturers attempted to raise output prices while Boston reported increases in retail prices. Boston also reported that costs for some businesses had increased--especially for airfare and hotel accommodations. Likewise, the New York District noted that accommodation and theatre ticket prices had risen sharply compared to a year ago.