Fed gives the economy a ‘B’

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It’s a big country and various parts of it are doing better than others. Overall though, according to the Beige Book from the Federal Reserve, economic activity is mostly expanding.

The B-grade economic report card from the nation’s central bankers will factor into their deliberations on interest rates later this month. The Fed is widely expected to leave rates alone, following last month’s first rate increase in nearly a decade.

Out of the 12 Federal Reserve Bank districts, 9 report that the local economy has been growing.

To compile the Beige Book, the Federal Reserve takes reports from local business people in several industries including tourism, nonfinancial services, manufacturing, real estate, banking and agriculture. The report also looks at consumer spending, employment, wages and prices.

Winners and losers in the Beige Book

Consumer spending was only OK over the holidays in most areas. This winter’s mild weather may have dampened sales of cold-weather gear in typically colder areas of the country.

Jobs were mostly strong since the last report in December, though Cleveland, Chicago and Dallas reported that hiring metrics were flat.

Wages remained in check, with little pressure to move upwards in most areas save for New York and San Francisco. Thanks to minimum-wage increases, there were some “pervasive” wage pressures for low-skilled positions.

Inflation is in check as well. Low oil prices were cited as an underlying cause, as were declining prices in other commodities. Crops and livestock experienced falling prices as well.

The agriculture industry has suffered recently. The Beige Book cites droughts and floods as well a declining demand for farm commodities thanks to the strong dollar.

As for some other sectors:

  • Banking. Credit conditions improved generally, and consumers across the country applied for loans across the country.
  • Real estate. Real estate and construction were mostly good. “Prices rose slightly to modestly overall in all reporting districts,” the Beige Book states. Sales slumped in Kansas City but were mostly positive elsewhere.
  • Manufacturing. Manufacturing was a mixed bag, with about 6 of the districts reporting declines. In Cleveland, Richmond and Chicago, manufacturing activity was up, however. The Fed reports that a toy company in the Boston region enjoyed much  stronger sales, largely driven by the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”
  • Nonfinancial services. “Overall, nonfinancial services have grown modestly to moderately since the previous Beige Book,” the report states.
  • Tourism. Tourists avoided New York but have flocked to San Francisco since the last Beige Book from the Fed. Skiers in the Philadelphia and Minneapolis regions stayed home, but there were reports of more shore and national park visits.

All in all, the Fed reports that the economy is trending up in most places but not where most Americans really need it to be: in their paycheck.

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Senior investing reporter Sheyna Steiner is a co-author of “Future Millionaires’ Guidebook,” an e-book written by Bankrate editors and reporters. It’s available at all the major e-book retailers.