Seventh District Update, April 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: Growth in economic activity in the Seventh District picked up to a moderate pace in late February and March, and contacts expressed renewed optimism about the outlook for growth over the next 6 to 12 months.
  • Consumer spending: Growth in consumer spending maintained a modest pace, though, in contrast to the national data, reports of new and used vehicle sales continued to be strong.
  • Business Spending: Most retailers and manufacturers reported comfortable inventory levels. Current capital outlays and plans for future outlays picked up to a moderate pace. Hiring also picked up to a moderate pace, as did the number of contacts saying they planned to increase their workforces in the future.
  • Construction and Real Estate: Residential construction edged up and residential rents and home prices rose slightly. Demand for nonresidential construction was little changed and commercial real estate activity rose moderately.
  • Manufacturing: While manufacturing production rose at a modest rate early in the reporting period, growth increased to a moderate pace by the end March. Activity remained strong in the auto and aerospace industries and picked up in most other industries.
  • Banking and finance: Overall, financial conditions improved some. Equity markets regained much of their losses from the previous reporting period and volatility subsided. Business loan demand improved marginally and consumer loan demand was little changed, on balance.
  • Prices and Costs: Cost pressures increased some in late February and early March, but remained mild overall. Most energy and metals prices increased, but remained low. Retail prices changed little on balance, and wage and nonwage cost pressures remained mild.
  • Agriculture: Corn, soybean, and wheat prices moved up, and fertilizer prices and land rents moved down, but these changes were not large enough to appreciably improve crop farmers’ earnings prospects.

The Midwest Economy Index (MEI) moved up to +0.07 in February from −0.09 in January. The relative MEI fell to +0.54 in February from +0.73 in January. February’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 increased to –4 from –20, suggesting that growth in economic activity picked up to a moderate pace in late February and March. The CFSBC Manufacturing Activity Index rose to +23 from –19, while the CFSBC Nonmanufacturing Activity Index increased to –19 from –21.