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'Beige Book' reports economic improvement

WASHINGTON — Highlights from the Federal Reserve’s survey of economic conditions nationwide. The survey, released Wednesday and known as the Beige Book, is based on information collected from the Fed’s 12 regional bank districts.


(This region covers Missouri, Arkansas and Kentucky, and parts of Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi.)

Economic conditions were mixed, but showed signs of improvement in some areas. Manufacturing picked up, with more factories planning to expand operations or increase hiring. Retailers saw sales decline from a year ago. Auto sales were roughly the same. Home sales were mixed, as was activity in the commercial and industrial real estate markets. In agriculture, production of corn, soybean and rice rose in 2009 from 2008 in most states in the region. Production of sorghum, winter wheat, cotton and tobacco fell.


(This region covers Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and part of Connecticut.)

Economic conditions showed improvement. Most manufacturers said demand strengthened, with makers of semiconductors and related equipment reporting “sharp snapbacks.” Merchants reported mixed sales results and are cautious about the outlook. Home and condo sales picked up, helped in part by the government’s homebuyer tax credit. Signs of modest improvements in commercial real-estate activity reported.


(This region covers New York and parts of Connecticut and New Jersey.)

The economy flashed further signs of strengthening, despite some slowing in the housing market. Many manufacturers planned to increase employment and capital spending in the months ahead. Retailers mostly reported sales ahead of expectations, although some said February’s severe snowstorms did slow business. Tourism activity in New York City picked up before the bad weather but was crimped when the storms hit. Both the residential housing and the commercial real-estate markets softened. Banks reported weaker demand for all types of loans and rising delinquency rates mostly for consumer loans.


(This region covers Delaware and parts of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.)

Economic conditions improved in some places. Factories reported widespread increases in shipments and new orders. Retailers, however, said a rising sales trend was interrupted by February’s snowstorms. Similar reports came from car dealers, residential real-estate agents and home builders. Across industries, businesses say they expect only slow improvements in sales in the months ahead.


(This region covers Ohio and parts of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky.)

The economy showed signs of improvement, although activity still remains below pre-recession levels. Factories said production was stable or rose modestly, and orders increased. Steel shipments were in line with expectation. Freight companies reported an increase in shipping volume. A majority of retailers said sales improved slightly from a year ago. Shoppers continued to focus on buying necessities. New-home sales picked up slightly.


(This region covers Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and parts of West Virginia.)

Economic activity slackened or remained soft across most industries because of severe winter storms. Retail sales — with the exceptions of items like food — were weaker. Big-ticket sales, including cars, dropped sharply. The bad weather also hurt sales at service companies, with airports, hotels and restaurants feeling the pinch. Many manufacturers lost a few days of production during the storms but were able to make up most of the lost activity. The housing sector was mixed, with bad weather limiting activity in many areas. The jobs market weakened.


(This region covers Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.)

Economic activity was mixed. Retailers said sales were lower than expected, although tourism-related spending increased. Miami saw strong demand for hotel bookings due to the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. New Orleans got a boost from Mardi Gras. Factories noted some improvements in new orders and the decline in production eased. New-home sales softened, with the weakness most pronounced in Georgia.


(This region covers Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan and parts of Illinois and Indiana.)

Economic activity improved at a moderate pace. Consumer spending increased slightly, although auto sales were weak. Factory activity gradually improved and orders increased, mostly reflecting the restocking of shrunken inventories. Demand from Asia boosted exports, but with growth in China expected to slow, companies predicted export activity would moderate as well. Construction activity stayed weak. In agriculture, corn prices fell amid last fall’s record harvest. Hog and cattle prices rose, while dairy prices flattened.


(This region covers Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.)

Economy grew modestly. Growth was reported in consumer spending, the services sector, energy, mining and home construction. Tourism was mixed, while manufacturing and commercial construction activity were stable. Softness in labor markets persisted. In agriculture, activity was down. Lenders expect overall agriculture income and spending to decrease in the first quarter of this year.


(This region covers Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and parts of Missouri and New Mexico.)

Additional signs of modest growth reported. Manufacturing activity expanded but didn’t lead to more hiring. Residential real-estate markets benefited from tax credits, while commercial real-estate activity weakened. Retailers’ sales were weaker than expected, with some mall operators attributing that to winter storms. Energy activity expanded, with new drilling for gas concentrated in Oklahoma. In agriculture, the winter wheat crop was in good conditions, with limited reports of freeze damage.


(This region covers Texas and parts of New Mexico and Louisiana.)

Economic activity improved. Retailers’ sales improved from a year ago, and department store sales were better than expected. Manufacturers tied to construction-related industries continue to hurt. High-tech manufacturers continued to see strong growth in production and orders. Makers of fabricated metals, though, saw a slightly pickup in orders, while makers of transportation equipment said activity was mixed. Home building picked up, but commercial real estate activity remained depressed.


(This region covers California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska.)

Economic activity increased modestly. Retail sales firmed, with discount chains and department stores reporting sales increases. New car sales slipped. Factory activity was mixed. Demand grew for semiconductors. New orders for commercial airplanes and parts was sluggish, but backlogs of unfilled orders kept production steady. The pace of home sales was mixed, and the supply of unsold homes is high. Prices rose a bit. Commercial real-estate activity weakened. Sales grew for agricultural products, but oil drilling and capital spending were held down by weak global demand.


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