The Federal Reserve‘s “beige book” report released Wednesday indicates the U.S. economy expanded at a “moderate pace” while the Dallas region reported that the economy expanded at a slightly faster pace.
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts suggest overall economic activity expanded at a moderate pace during the reporting period from late February to early April. Activity in the Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts was characterized as growing at a moderate pace, while the Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco Districts noted modest growth. The New York and Dallas Districts indicated that the pace of expansion accelerated slightly since the previous Beige Book.
Commercial Real Estate
Commercial real estate and construction activity improved in most Districts. Office vacancy rates declined in the Boston District and contacts said the construction of mixed-use projects was picking up. The New York District reported that office vacancy rates continued to decline and rents rose in Manhattan. The Philadelphia District commented that there was not much change in nonresidential activity during the reporting period, but that contracts for repair work from Hurricane Sandy have yet to be approved. Contacts in the Richmond District cited a tight supply of class A office space and said there were several large projects under construction in the Washington D.C. area. Commercial construction saw widespread improvement with the New York, Atlanta, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Kansas City Districts noting increases. Both commercial real estate development and leasing activity increased across the San Francisco District, mostly fueled by growth in the technology industry. Several Districts, including Boston, Richmond, Atlanta, and Kansas City said commercial property investment sales activity increased during the reporting period.
Contacts in the Philadelphia and Kansas City Districts were somewhat optimistic in their outlooks for the commercial real estate and construction markets in general, but contacts in the Cleveland District were cautious about near-term construction activity. Dallas District contacts said office and warehouse markets were improving, and Atlanta District respondents noted growing optimism for the office and industrial sectors.
The Eleventh District economy expanded at a slightly faster pace over the past six weeks than during the previous reporting period, when growth was moderate. Many manufacturing firms noted that activity increased since the last report. In the nonfinancial services sector, legal and accounting demand increased, although staffing firms reported sluggish demand. Retail sales and auto sales were up. Robust housing demand led to price gains, and commercial real estate activity remained strong. Lenders noted moderate growth in loan demand, and activity in the energy sector remained at high levels. Drought conditions remained prevalent in the agricultural sector. Reporting firms said prices remained stable overall, and there were limited reports of wage pressure. Employment levels were steady to up.
Construction and Real Estate
Texas home prices rose rapidly due to strong demand and very low inventories. Some builders were still finding financing difficult. Outlooks for the single-family housing sector were positive, but price gains are expected to slow later in the year as building activity picks up. Contacts said apartment demand remains strong, in part, thanks to strong job growth and migration. Commercial real estate contacts reported that gains in occupancy and rents may be slowing property sales as owning has become more profitable. Most contacts noted banks were more aggressive with lending, and Texas office and warehouse markets were improving.