Fed Beige Book Dominated by Moderate and Modest

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The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book is often reported as though it is an economic report or as though it is an official Federal Reserve report. It turns out that the Beige Book summarizes comments received from businesses and other contacts outside of the Federal Reserve System, so it is not actually a commentary on the views of Federal Reserve officials. Still, investors and economists want to see what contacts are saying around the nation.

With such a strong market recovery after the 2016 presidential election, it might go without saying that expectations were higher for better comments. It turns out that the use of ‘modest’ and ‘moderate’ to describe the economy and parts of the economy were used even more in November than they were in September.

November’s Beige Book was prepared by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The dates matter here as the report is based on information collected on or before November 18, 2016. Some of the data may be prior to the election based upon the use of early October and November.

On a general basis, the U.S. economy continued to expand across most regions from early October through mid-November. Activity in the Boston, Minneapolis, and San Francisco Districts were shown to have grown at a moderate pace. Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas cited modest growth. The Beige Book indicated that the districts in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Kansas City cited a slight pace of growth. Richmond’s view was considered mixed, and New York said activity has remained flat since the last report. Outlooks were mainly positive, with six Fed districts expecting moderate growth.

Maybe English majors are better at discerning “modest” and “moderate” than the average reader. Just don’t use a thesaurus to find the difference. Here is how often each term was used:

  • Modest was used 93 times, versus 81 times in September and 61 times in October.
  • Moderate was used 65 times, versus 63 times in September and 69 times in October.

These are the verbatim comments made by respondents in November’s Beige Book:

  • Demand for manufactured products was mixed during the current reporting period, with the strong dollar being cited as a headwind to more robust demand in a few Districts.
  • Modest to moderate increases in capital investment are expected in several other Districts.
  • Business service firms saw rising activity, especially for high-tech and information technology services.
  • Reports from ground freight carriers were mixed, while port cargo increased.
  • A majority of Districts reported higher retail sales, especially for apparel and furniture.
  • New motor vehicle sales declined in most Districts, with a few Districts noting a shift in demand toward used vehicles.
  • Tourism was mostly positive relative to year-ago levels.
  • Residential real estate activity improved across most Districts.
  • Single-family construction starts were higher in a majority of Districts, while multifamily construction reports were mixed.
  • Activity in nonresidential real estate expanded in many Districts.
  • Banking conditions were largely stable, with some improvement seen in loan demand.
  • Farmers across reporting Districts were generally satisfied with this year’s harvests.
  • However, low commodity prices continue to weigh on farm income.
  • Investment in oil and gas drilling increased slightly, while reports on coal production were mixed.
  • A tightening in labor market conditions was reported by seven Districts, with modest employment growth on balance.
  • Districts noted slight upward pressure on overall prices.

Again, this should not be considered an official report from the Fed.