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Beige Book: National Summary
March 3, 2021
This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta based on information collected on or before February 22nd. This document summarizes comments received from contacts outside the Federal Reserve System and is not a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials.
Overall Economic Activity
Economic activity expanded modestly from January to mid-February for most Federal Reserve Districts. Most businesses remain optimistic regarding the next 6-12 months as COVID-19 vaccines become more widely distributed. Reports on consumer spending and auto sales were mixed. Although a few Districts reported slight improvements in travel and tourism activity, overall conditions in the leisure and hospitality sector continued to be restrained by ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Despite challenges from supply chain disruptions, overall manufacturing activity for most Districts increased moderately from the previous report. Among Districts reporting on nonfinancial services, activity was mixed, though most reported modest growth over the reporting period. Some Districts noted that financial institutions experienced declines in loan volumes, but most cited lower delinquency rates and elevated deposit levels. Historically low mortgage interest rates continued to spur robust demand for both new and existing homes in most Districts, and home prices continued to rise in many areas of the U.S. On balance, commercial real estate conditions in the hotel, retail, and office sectors deteriorated somewhat, while activity in the multifamily sector remained steady and the industrial segment continued to strengthen. Districts reporting on energy observed a slight uptick in activity related to oil and gas production and energy consumption. Overall, reports on agricultural conditions were somewhat improved since the previous report. Transportation activity grew modestly for many Districts.
Employment and Wages
Most Districts reported that employment levels rose over the reporting period, albeit slowly. Labor demand varied considerably by industry and by skill level, and many contacts noted continued difficulties attracting and retaining qualified workers. Labor supply shortages were noted by contacts as most acute among low-skill occupations and skilled trade positions. Constraints on labor supply included those related to COVID-19, childcare, and unemployment benefits. Overall, contacts expect modest improvements in employment levels in the near term. Several Districts reported modest wage increases for high-demand positions with many also noting upward pressure on wages to attract and retain employees. On balance, wage increases for many Districts are expected to persist or to pick up somewhat over the next several months.
On balance, nonlabor input costs rose moderately over the reporting period, with steel and lumber prices increasing notably. In many Districts, the rise in costs was widely attributed to supply chain disruptions and to strong overall demand. Transportation costs continued to increase, in part due to rising fuel costs and capacity constraints. Reports on pricing power were mixed, with some retailers and manufacturers affected by input cost increases reporting the ability to pass prices through, while many others were unable to raise prices. Several Districts reported anticipating modest price increases over the next several months.
Highlights by Federal Reserve District
Economic activity remained mixed in the First District, with strong performance at manufacturers and ongoing weakness at hospitality outlets. Labor markets were tight for skilled workers. Manufacturers faced new upward pressures on input prices. Single-family home sales increased further. Contacts in the restaurant and hotel industries expressed a more optimistic outlook.
The regional economy declined modestly, with particular weakness in the service sector. The labor market has remained sluggish, though wage growth accelerated. Businesses reported further acceleration in prices, as well as increasingly widespread supply disruptions. Contacts across a wide variety of sectors expressed increased optimism about the near-term outlook.
Business activity rebounded to a modest pace of growth during the current Beige Book period. COVID-19 cases waned and restrictions eased, but economic disruptions continued. On the whole, activity remained below levels attained prior to the pandemic. Employment rebounded – growing slightly – as wage growth and prices picked up to modest and moderate paces, respectively.
The District's economy regained momentum, reflecting declining numbers of coronavirus infections and various fiscal support measures. That said, activity remains below prepandemic levels for most firms, and supply chain disruptions restrained output for many firms. Such disruptions also led to sizable increases in nonlabor costs. Hiring activity remained modest, although a greater share of firms reported they were raising wages.
The regional economy continued to grow modestly. Manufacturing activity picked up, as did port and trucking transportation. Travel and tourism also rose in recent weeks. Retail sales, on the other hand, declined. The housing market remained strong and commercial real estate leasing rose modestly. Employment increased slightly while wages were little changed. Prices increased moderately in recent weeks.
Economic activity expanded modestly. Labor market conditions improved, and wage pressure was subdued. Some nonlabor costs rose. Retail spending was steady. Tourism and hospitality activity rose slightly. Residential real estate demand increased, and home prices rose. Commercial real estate conditions were mixed. Manufacturing activity improved. Conditions at financial institutions were stable.
Economic activity in the Seventh District increased modestly. Manufacturing and consumer spending increased moderately; business spending and construction and real estate increased slightly; and employment was little changed. Wages and prices rose modestly. Financial conditions were little changed. Contacts expected agricultural income to be solid in 2021.
Reports from contacts indicate that economic conditions have been generally unchanged since our previous report. Overall, the outlook among contacts continued to improve and is generally optimistic. Contacts noted a high degree of uncertainty about the pace of recovery, which they linked to vaccine rollout and efficacy.
District economic activity increased modestly. Hiring demand rose, but employment growth remained flat, likely due to labor supply constraints and workers' hope of being rehired by previous employers. Manufacturers expected a recent uptick in business to carry forward, while construction and real estate were seeing hot-and-cold activity across the District. Conditions for minority- and women-owned businesses remained difficult.
Economic activity expanded slightly, with gains in most sectors. Stronger retail, restaurant, and healthcare sales drove consumer spending higher in January, but consumers pulled back in February. Activity rose in the manufacturing, professional and high-tech services, wholesale trade, residential real estate, energy, and agriculture sectors. Contacts were generally optimistic about future growth, driven in part by the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
The District economy expanded at a moderate pace, though output in most industries remained below normal levels. Unprecedented winter storms and widespread power outages in mid-February severely disrupted economic activity, though the impact is mostly expected to be transitory. The housing market continued to be a bright spot, and energy activity improved further. Employment rose and wages increased moderately. Outlooks were generally positive, but uncertainty persisted.
Economic activity in the District expanded at a modest pace as labor markets deteriorated somewhat. Wages and inflation picked up. Retail sales improved, but activity in the services sector declined moderately due to ongoing pandemic-related restrictions. Conditions in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors strengthened modestly. Residential construction and lending activity continued to be strong.