US: Beige Book

Wed Apr 18 13:00:00 CDT 2018

Tariffs are the feature of the latest Beige Book, lifting steel prices with further increases expected. Otherwise inflation on the whole is once again described as moderate with wages said to be modest despite persistent tightness in the labor market and shortages across skill levels.

The general assessment -- modest to moderate growth across all 12 districts -- is also unchanged. One upgrade comes for auto sales which are now described as mixed vs flat to declining in the last Beige Book in early March. Low supply is once again said to be holding down home sales though commercial real estate is said to have improved modestly.

Turning back to tariffs, the report said they sparked sometimes "dramatic" increases in prices that are being fed through to some customers. It also notes that some firms tried to stockpile steel and that some steel and aluminum manufacturers in the St. Louis region reopened their facilities and called back workers. The report said manufacturers are holding to a positive outlook based on high consumer sentiment.

The detail on tariffs is important news in what however is yet another subdued Beige Book, one that isn't signaling an increased pace of rate hikes for the Federal Reserve. Cut-off date was April 9 for today's report which was compiled by the Dallas Fed for the May 1 & 2 FOMC.

Market Consensus Before Announcement
All 12 districts in the March Beige Book fell back into the "modest-to-moderate" camp where they've been for the last year. Given the low base, any improvement in the latest Beige Book could raise rate-hike expectations. Inflation in the last report was described as moderate and any upgrade here, including pressure tied to metals tariffs, would also raise those expectations.

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.

Eight times a year