Beige Book reports 'moderate pace' growth through April 5

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In the careful language of the Federal Reserve, the economy seems to be improving.

In its latest edition of the periodic "Summary of commentary on current economic conditions," also known as the Beige Book, the Fed is conservative in its choice of language. The assessment released Wednesday said overall activity is growing at a moderate pace, which is better than the report six weeks ago in which the economy was growing at a "modest to moderate" pace.

The regions around the country that grew at a "moderate pace" during the six weeks ending April 5 included the Cleveland district, of which Pittsburgh is a part.

According to the report, most of the nation saw increases in manufacturing, though the labor market was either unchanged or improved slightly. There were reports of hiring in manufacturing, residential construction, information technology and professional services.

In the Cleveland district, factories reported they had new orders and that production was mostly higher than it was in January and early February. Manufacturers also reported that while exports to the Pacific Rim were up, exports to Europe were down.

Sales of new and existing homes were both up in the last six weeks, even with reports that listing prices for homes have risen by 1 or 2 percent.

While nonresidential construction is rising, contractors told the Federal Reserve investigators that they are still underbidding to keep their companies working.

Consumers in the region tended to be spending a little more on clothing and electronics, and auto sales were up slightly. Car buyers tended to purchase small fuel-efficient cars and smaller SUVs, though in areas with a lot of shale drilling activity, large pickup trucks were selling well.

Consumers also increased their demand for home-equity and auto loans, according to bankers who said that demand for business credit also increased.

The prolonged wintry chill was good for the coal industry, with one producer telling the Fed investigator that the cold, combined with rising natural gas prices had meant an increase in coal demand by power companies. Overall, coal production trended down. The number of natural gas rigs remained steady.

That cold weather also slowed planting by farmers in the Richmond, Virginia and Chicago districts, and the drought continued to be troublesome for farmers and ranchers in the Kansas City and Dallas districts who reported weakened winter wheat crops and losses in livestock.

businessnews

Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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