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Beige Book: National Summary

March 7, 2018

This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco based on information collected on or before February 26, 2018. 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 at a modest to moderate pace across the 12 Federal Reserve Districts in January and February. Consumer spending was mixed, as non-auto retail sales increased in just over half of the Districts while auto sales declined or were flat in every District. Tourism activity was broadly solid, with Atlanta and Richmond recording robust growth in this sector. On balance, Districts reported modest growth in home sales and construction, with the latter constrained by shortages of labor and materials. Conditions in the nonresidential real estate market improved moderately since the previous report, with robust construction activity noted in three Districts. Commercial rents in and around New York City were up significantly, according to contacts in the area. Increases in production were broad based across manufacturing sectors, with all but one District noting at least modest growth in activity. Loan volumes were generally flat, with a handful of Districts noting a modest decrease in delinquency rates. Among reporting Districts, agricultural sector activity was mixed but flat overall. Contacts in natural resource sectors saw modestly improving industry conditions, except in the Minneapolis District, where energy and mining activity was robust.

Employment and Wages
On balance, employment grew at a moderate pace since the previous report. Across the country, contacts observed persistent labor market tightness and brisk demand for qualified workers, as well as increased activity at staffing placement services. Several Districts reported continued worker shortages across most sectors, with contacts often mentioning shortages in the construction, information technology, and manufacturing sectors. In many Districts, wage growth picked up to a moderate pace. Most Districts saw employers raise wages and expand benefit packages in response to tight labor market conditions. Contacts in a few Districts conveyed reports of modest increases in compensation following passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Prices
Prices increased in all Districts, and most reports noted moderate inflation. Four Districts saw a marked increase in steel prices, due in part to a decline in foreign competition. Price growth for building materials such as lumber picked up, stemming from an uptick in construction activity. Several Districts reported moderate increases in broad transportation costs, caused primarily by higher fuel costs that boosted freight rates. Home and commercial lease prices rose across most of the country.

Highlights by Federal Reserve District

Boston
Business contacts at manufacturing and retail firms reported year-over-year revenue increases in recent weeks. These employers and staffing firms said labor markets were tight, and many cited potential wage increases. Price commentary was mixed, although no contacts planned substantial price increases. The outlook remained positive.

New York
Economic activity grew at a modest pace, while labor markets have remained tight. Input price pressures have intensified, while selling prices generally continued to rise modestly. Housing markets and commercial real estate markets have been mixed.

Philadelphia
Economic activity continued to grow at a modest pace, in particular for nonauto retail sales, manufacturing, nonfinancial services, and tourism. Nonresidential leasing improved to a modest pace, while auto sales continued a modest decline. Construction and existing home sales changed little. On balance, employment, wages, and prices continued to grow modestly.

Cleveland
The District economy expanded at a moderate pace. Labor markets tightened, with wage pressures noted broadly. The Tax Cut and Jobs Act is reportedly enabling firms to invest more and to increase worker pay. Stronger confidence in the economy supported rising demand in manufacturing, retail, and nonfinancial services. Construction activity remained buoyant.

Richmond
The regional economy expanded at moderate pace in recent weeks. Manufacturing activity picked up, but manufacturers faced longer vendor lead times due to trucking delays. Exporting activity rose more quickly and, for some ports, came more in line with imports. Labor demand increased moderately and wage pressures broadened. Prices continued to grow at a modest pace.

Atlanta
Economic conditions continued to improve modestly. The labor market remained tight and wage growth was balanced. Non-labor input costs edged up slightly. Retailers cited flat sales, while auto sales were sluggish. Home prices increased modestly. Demand for commercial real estate continued to improve. Manufacturers noted solid activity and steady production levels.

Chicago
Growth in economic activity remained at a moderate pace. Employment and manufacturing production increased moderately, business spending rose modestly, construction and real estate activity grew slightly, and consumer spending was down slightly. Wages increased modestly, prices rose slightly, and financial conditions deteriorated some. Farmers continued to face challenging conditions.

St. Louis
Economic conditions have continued to improve at a modest pace. District banking contacts reported stronger demand for new loans. Overall price pressures strengthened. The outlook among firms surveyed in mid-February was slightly more optimistic than the outlook in our mid-November survey and generally unchanged from one year ago.

Minneapolis
Ninth District economic activity grew moderately, and labor markets remained tight. Consumer spending was up modestly, while tourism got a boost from the Super Bowl in Minneapolis and good snowfall elsewhere. Energy and mining activity increased briskly. Commercial construction grew strongly, but residential construction was mixed. Home sales were generally lower across the District.

Kansas City
Economic activity continued to expand at a modest pace in late January and February, with broad-based growth across most District sectors. Consumer spending, real estate and energy activity increased modestly, while contacts in the manufacturing, transportation, wholesale trade, and professional and high-tech sectors reported moderate growth. Additional gains were expected in most sectors in the months ahead.

Dallas
Economic activity grew moderately, with sectors like manufacturing and energy continuing their solid expansions while others cooled somewhat. Growth in nonfinancial services activity slowed slightly, as did loan growth, and retail sales fell modestly. Hiring remained solid despite a tight labor market, and wage and price pressures remained elevated and in some cases strengthened.

San Francisco
Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to expand at a moderate pace. Sales of retail goods picked up slightly, and growth in the consumer and business services sectors remained strong. Conditions in the manufacturing sector continued to pick up. Activity in residential real estate markets remained strong, and conditions in the commercial real estate sector were robust. Lending activity ticked up.