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Fed’s Beige Book: Economic Actvity Expanded “Modestly”, Labor Market “Tight”

Fed’s Beige Book “This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York based on information collected on or before January 6, 2020.”

Economic activity generally continued to expand modestly in the final six weeks of 2019. The Dallas and Richmond Districts noted above-average growth, while Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Kansas City reported sub-par growth. Consumer spending grew at a modest to moderate pace, with a number of Districts noting some pickup from the prior reporting period. On balance, holiday sales were said to be solid, with several Districts noting the growing importance of online shopping. Vehicle sales generally expanded moderately, though a handful of Districts reported flat sales. Tourism was mixed, with growth reported in the eastern seaboard Districts but activity little changed in the Midwest and West. Manufacturing activity was essentially flat in most Districts, as in the previous report. Business in nonfinancial services was mixed but, on balance, growing modestly. Transportation activity was also mixed across Districts, with a majority reporting flat to weaker activity. Banks mostly characterized loan volume as steady to expanding moderately. Home sales trends varied widely across Districts but were flat overall, while residential rental markets strengthened. Some Districts pointed to low inventories as restraining home sales. New residential construction expanded modestly. Commercial real estate activity varied substantially across Districts. Agricultural conditions were little changed, as was activity in the energy sector. In many Districts, tariffs and trade uncertainty continued to weigh on some businesses. Expectations for the near-term outlook remained modestly favorable across the nation.

Employment was steady to rising modestly in most Districts, while labor markets remained tight throughout the nation. Most Districts cited widespread labor shortages as a factor constraining job growth, and, in a few cases, business expansion. A few Districts noted brisk demand for professional, technical, and managerial workers. A number of Districts reported job cuts or reduced hiring among manufacturers, and there were scattered reports of job cuts in the transportation and energy sectors. Wage growth was characterized as modest or moderate in most Districts—similar to the prior reporting period—and there were scattered reports of wage increases from year-end hikes in minimum wages. A few Districts also noted the use of benefits, incentives, training programs, and automation to reduce vacancies.
emphasis added

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