Seventh District Update, March 2016

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First, a (repeat) special announcement: As a Midwest Economy blog reader, you may also want to sign up to follow our new Chicago Fed Survey of Business Conditions (CFSBC), which is a survey of business contacts conducted to support the Seventh Federal Reserve District’s contribution to the Beige Book. The Chicago Fed produces diffusion indexes based on the quantitative questions in the survey. Click here to sign up for email alerts and click here to view the latest release.

And now, a summary of economic conditions in the Seventh District from the latest release of the Beige Book and from other indicators of regional business activity:

  • Overall conditions: Economic activity continued to increase at a modest pace, but turmoil in financial markets led contacts to express greater uncertainty and more pessimism about the pace of growth over the next 6 to 12 months.
  • Consumer spending: Growth in consumer spending continued at a modest pace, though new and used vehicle sales continued to be strong.
  • Business Spending: Most retailers reported comfortable inventory levels. Current capital spending and plans for future outlays both picked up some, but growth remained modest. The pace of hiring also picked up some, but growth remained slow. More contacts noted plans to increase their workforces over the next 6 to 12 months than in the previous reporting period.
  • Construction and Real Estate: Residential construction expanded modestly, and residential rents, home sales, and home prices all inched up. Nonresidential construction activity was little changed. Commercial real estate activity remained strong, fueled by demand from institutional investors.
  • Manufacturing: Gains in manufacturing production continued at a moderate pace. Growth remained strong in the auto and aerospace industries, but was slower in most other industries.
  • Banking and finance: Financial conditions tightened slightly on balance. Contacts reported that concerns about slower global economic growth led to declines in equity markets. Business and consumer loan demand grew slightly.
  • Prices and Costs: Cost pressures continued to be subdued. Commodity prices remained low, retail prices were little changed, and wage and nonwage cost pressures remained mild.
  • Agriculture: Crop farmers continued to cut capacity following another year of low incomes coupled with unexpectedly small declines in input costs.

The Midwest Economy Index (MEI) moved up to –0.15 in December from –0.20 in November. The relative MEI rose to +0.28 in December from +0.08 in November. December’s value for the relative MEI indicates that Midwest economic growth was somewhat higher than what would typically be suggested by the growth rate of the national economy.

The Chicago Fed Survey of Business Conditions (CFSBC) Activity Index edged down to –19 from –17, suggesting that growth in economic activity continued at a modest pace in January and early February. The CFSBC Manufacturing Activity Index rose to –7 from –18, while the CFSBC Nonmanufacturing Activity Index declined to –25 from –16.