Seventh District Update, December 2014
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 remained moderate in October and November. Contacts expressed optimism for the coming year, but were concerned about weakening foreign growth and the possibility of another severe winter.
- Consumer spending: Growth in consumer spending was moderate. Non-auto retailers had a positive outlook for the holiday season and auto sales and leasing activity remained strong.
- Business Spending: Inventories were at comfortable levels, capital expenditures and spending plans continued to rise, and actual hiring and hiring plans continued to increase at a moderate pace.
- Construction and Real Estate: Residential construction rose, and home sales picked up more than expected. Nonresidential construction and commercial real estate activity increased moderately.
- Manufacturing: The auto, aerospace, and energy industries remained a source of strength. Steel production grew steadily, while demand for heavy machinery grew slowly. Manufacturers of construction building materials reported an increase in shipments.
- Banking and finance: Credit conditions were little changed on balance. Equity market volatility increased in mid-October and then declined. Business loan demand was mixed, and consumer loan demand increased.
- Prices and Costs: Energy and steel prices declined, but transportation costs increased for many contacts. Retail prices were little changed. Wage pressures continued for skilled workers, but were less pronounced for unskilled workers. Non-wage labor costs changed little.
- Agriculture: The District harvest was behind, but yields should still set records. Corn, soybean, wheat, and cattle prices moved up, while milk and hog prices declined.
The Midwest Economy Index (MEI) decreased to +0.36 in October from +0.46 in September, but remained above average for the seventh straight month. The relative MEI moved down to +0.33 in October from +0.43 in September. October’s value for the relative MEI indicates that Midwest economic growth was somewhat higher than would typically be suggested by the growth rate of the national economy.