Today's Beige Book reported five of twelve Districts expanding moderately. The report partly focused on labor markets, noting that labor markets are either stable or improving modestly. Most Districts reported higher retail sales-likely due to improved weather. Auto sales rose in most Districts. Similarly, real estate activity was seen as improved somewhat in most Districts.
Demand for manufactured products was mixed during the current reporting period. Weakening activity was attributed in part to the strong dollar, falling oil prices, and the harsh winter weather. Business service firms saw rising activity, especially for high-tech services, and they expect positive near-term growth.
Districts generally reported stable or modestly increasing overall price levels.
Overall, the Beige Book is modestly positive but still sluggish, suggesting no rush for a rate hike.
This book is produced roughly two weeks before the monetary policy meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee. On each occasion, a different Fed district bank compiles anecdotal evidence on economic conditions from each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts.
This report on economic conditions is used at FOMC meetings, where the Fed sets interest rate policy. These meetings occur roughly every six weeks and are the single most influential event for the markets. Market participants speculate for weeks in advance about the possibility of an interest rate change that could be announced upon the end of these meetings. If the outcome is different from expectations, the impact on the markets can be dramatic and far-reaching.
If the Beige Book portrays an overheating economy or inflationary pressures, the Fed may be more inclined to raise interest rates in order to moderate the economic pace. Conversely, if the Beige Book portrays economic difficulties or recessionary conditions, the Fed may see the need to lower interest rates in order to stimulate activity. Since the past recession, traders worry about the impact of the Beige Book on the timing of tapering quantitative easing.
Since the Beige Book is released two weeks before each FOMC meeting, investors can see for themselves at least one of the many indicators which Fed officials will use to determine interest rate policy, and can position their portfolios accordingly.
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