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Beige Book: National Summary

May 30, 2018

This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland based on information collected on or before May 21, 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 moderately in late April and early May with few shifts in the pattern of growth. The Dallas District was an exception, where overall economic activity sped up to a solid pace. Manufacturing shifted into higher gear with more than half of the Districts reporting a pickup in industrial activity and a third of the Districts classifying activity as "strong." Fabricated metals, heavy industrial machinery, and electronics equipment were noted as areas of strength. Rising goods production led to higher freight volumes for transportation firms. By contrast, consumer spending was soft. Nonauto retail sales growth moderated somewhat and auto sales were flat, although there was considerable variation by District and vehicle type. In banking, demand for loans ticked higher and banks reported that increased competition had led to higher deposit rates. Delinquency rates were mostly stable at low levels. Homebuilding and home sales increased modestly, on net, and nonresidential construction continued at a moderate pace. Contacts noted some concern about the uncertainty of international trade policy. Still, outlooks for near term growth were generally upbeat.

Employment and Wages
Employment rose at a modest to moderate rate across most Districts. Again, the Dallas District was the exception, where solid and widespread employment growth was reported. Labor market conditions remained tight across the country, and contacts continued to report difficulty filling positions across skill levels. Shortages of qualified workers were reported in various specialized trades and occupations, including truck drivers, sales personnel, carpenters, electricians, painters, and information technology professionals. Many firms responded to talent shortages by increasing wages as well as the generosity of their compensation packages. In the aggregate, however, wage increases remained modest in most Districts. Contacts in some Districts expected similar employment and wage gains in the coming months.

Prices
Prices rose moderately in most Districts, while the remainder reported slight or modest increases. There were several reports of rising materials costs, notably for steel, aluminum, oil, oil derivatives, lumber, and cement. A few Districts noted that these reports of rising materials costs were becoming more common across contacts. Input cost increases, along with labor shortages in some sectors and strengthening demand, put upward pressure on prices in the transportation, construction, and manufacturing sectors. Some Districts also noted that their retail contacts were more able to pass along price increases to their customers than in the recent past.

Highlights by Federal Reserve District

Boston
Business activity continued to expand at a moderate pace, with contacted manufacturers, retailers, and most staffing firms reporting year-over-year increases in revenues. While some firms said prices were increasing more than last year, others indicated no unusual pressure. Most hiring firms noted tight labor markets; some--including staffing firms--said wages were rising.

New York
Economic growth continued at a modest pace, while labor markets have tightened further. Input price pressures have broadened, and selling price increases have picked up somewhat. Housing markets have firmed slightly, while commercial real estate markets have softened.

Philadelphia
Economic activity continued to expand at a modest pace. Wage pressures were emerging in some tighter labor markets, but wage and price increases remained modest overall, as did job growth. Notably, nonfinancial services accelerated to a moderate pace, and auto sales appeared to reverse several periods of decline, posting a slight increase.

Cleveland
The District economy expanded at a moderate pace. Labor markets tightened, with wage pressures noted broadly. Rising commodities prices and transportation costs are pressuring goods producers. Stronger confidence in the economy boosted demand in manufacturing, banking, and nonfinancial services. Consumer demand increased modestly. Construction activity remained robust.

Richmond
The regional economy expanded moderately. Robust demand and a shortage of drivers led some trucking firms to turn away business which, in turn, increased demand for rail services. Home sales were steady, while inventories remained limited. Labor demand continued to strengthen and supply remained tight across industries. Prices rose moderately, overall.

Atlanta
Economic activity grew at a modest pace. Tightness continued in the labor market with firms noting increased efforts to attract and retain workers. Reports of wage growth were mixed. Overall retail sales rose and light truck sales were robust. Real estate activity improved slightly. Manufacturers noted increases in new orders and production. Loan growth remained firm.

Chicago
Growth in economic activity continued at a moderate pace. Manufacturing increased strongly, employment grew moderately, consumer and business spending rose modestly, and construction and real estate increased slightly. Wages and prices increased modestly and financial conditions improved modestly. The outlook for farm income brightened.

St. Louis
Economic conditions improved slightly. Wage growth was moderate. Some firms have begun relaxing drug-testing standards and restrictions on hiring felons to alleviate labor shortages. District bankers reported weaker demand for new loans and a decline in creditworthiness of loan applicants. Firms surveyed in mid-May were slightly less optimistic about the rest of 2018 as those surveyed in mid-February.

Minneapolis
Ninth District economic activity increased moderately. While labor demand appeared robust, employment growth was restrained by a tight labor supply. Wage growth was moderate, while price pressures increased slightly, particularly at the wholesale level. District manufacturers were experiencing robust growth but also were experiencing supply-chain disruptions as a result of uncertainty over trade policy.

Kansas City
Overall economic activity in the Tenth District increased moderately, with further growth expected in coming months. Manufacturing activity expanded at a rapid pace, while consumer spending, energy, and business services grew moderately. Agricultural conditions weakened but at a slower pace, while District employment and wages rose modestly.

Dallas
Economic activity grew at a solid pace, with an acceleration in manufacturing activity. Expansion in the services, energy, and real estate sectors continued at about the same pace. Retail spending was mixed and drought conditions persisted in parts of the District. Hiring remained solid despite a tight labor market, and wage and price pressures stayed elevated. Contacts expressed concern about trade uncertainty and rising interest rates, although outlooks overall remained positive.

San Francisco
Economic activity in the Twelfth District continued to expand at a moderate pace. Sales of retail goods edged up, and activity in the consumer and business services sectors expanded slightly. Activity in the manufacturing sector was solid. Activity in residential real estate markets remained solid, and conditions in the commercial real estate sector picked up notably. Lending activity ticked up modestly.