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Beige Book hints at slower growth

By Claes Bell, CFA · Bankrate.com
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Posted: 4 pm ET

The economic recovery continues to blaze along at roughly the speed of an inebriated snail, according to the latest edition of the Federal Reserve's Beige Book.

Overall, the economy is expanding at a modest to moderate pace but appears to have lost some steam since the June report, a fact that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke alluded to in his testimony before Congress this week.

Three districts reported slowing growth, up from just one in the last report published June 6. Eight of the 12 Federal Reserve districts reported either moderate or modest growth. One district, Richmond, reported mixed data.

Some individual industries have shown notable improvement according to the report, particularly housing:

All District housing market reports were largely positive, as sales and construction levels increased and home inventories declined. Rental markets continued to strengthen with rising rents being reported in Boston, New York, Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. Commercial real estate leasing and construction continued to improve as demand for multifamily units increased in Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco.

Further reflecting a pickup in housing activity, mortgage lending increased since the last report:

Most Districts reported an increase in mortgage lending, with Dallas noting especially strong demand and a healthy backlog of loans. Refinancing of mortgage loans was steady or increasing in New York, Cleveland, Richmond, and Chicago, but Philadelphia noted a recent slowdown.

Retail sales, particularly of fuel-efficient autos, also increased in most districts.

For those worried about inflation, the report also had some welcome news. "Input prices," Fed-speak for the cost of raw materials and labor that go into finished goods, have stabilized in all districts. That means that upward pressure on prices is now easing compared to a few months earlier, which could mean less sticker shock on future shopping trips.

What do you think? Are prices for the things you buy going up? Is housing jumping in your area? Weigh in!

Follow me on Twitter: @ClaesBell

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