Fed Survey Finds Moderate Economic Growth for Spring

(CN) – The Federal Reserve says the U.S. economy experienced moderate growth in the early spring, accompanied by tight labor markets and rising wages.

The Fed’s “Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions,” more commonly known as “the Beige Book,” is published eight times a year. The latest edition was released Wednesday.

To compile it, each Federal Reserve Bank gathers anecdotal information on current economic conditions in its district through reports from bank and branch directors, and interviews with key business contacts, economists, market experts, and other sources.

The Beige Book it a summary of this information by Federal Reserve district and financial sector.

In its latest survey of economic conditions nationwide, the central bank found that all 12 regional banks reported modest or moderate growth during the period extending from mid-March into early April.

Consumer spending, housing construction, manufacturing  and tourism all contributed to the economy’s strength.

The report went on to say businesses across the country reported tight labor markets during the period with hefty wage increases for workers whose skills are most in demand.

“Labor markets remained tight and employers in most districts had more difficulty filling low-skilled positions,” the report says, adding that a large number of firms also mentioned higher turnover rates and more difficulty retaining workers.

Despite the rise in wages, the report said inflationary pressures on the economy remain modest, largely as a result of flat energy pressures.

One soft spot in the economy is agriculture, which did see increases in the price of cotton, peanuts, chickens and hogs, but say those gains offset by decreases in the price of corn and wheat.

The Kansas City Fed, which serves Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and Wyoming, reported weak agricultural conditions in that region, despite some recent improvement in the cattle and soybean markets.

Energy proved to be an accelerating sector for the Federal Reserve banks in Dallas and St. Louis.

According to the Dallas Fed, the oil and gas sector continues to recover from its lows in early 2016.

In March, prices for West Texas Intermediate crude oil dipped from their recent highs, while natural gas prices rose slightly.

Texas oil and gas employment expanded in February, primarily in support activities. Oil production in the Permian Basin continues to rise, and production in the Eagle Ford is starting to pick up, the bank said.

Drilled but uncompleted wells in the Permian have climbed to an all-time high. Rig counts in Texas have more than doubled since bottoming out the last week of May 2016, with counties in the Permian adding the most rigs.

The St. Louis reported that coal production in the district was 10 percent higher than a year ago.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis meanwhile says it has seen a wave of closings in the retail sector impacting both large and small retailers.

All 12 Federal Reserve district saw a modest expansion of the manufacturing sector, and slower growth in freight shipments.

Several districts reported an uptick in home construction, but slower growth in home sales due to inventory constraints.

Consumer spending during the period was led my stronger auto sales, but its impact was softened by slowing non-auto spending.

Speaking of consumer spending, the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday that its Consumer Price Index rose 2.4 percent over the 12 months ending March 2017

From March 2016 to March 2017, the bureau said the all items index rose 2.4 percent — a bit smaller than the 2.7-percent rise for the year ending February 2017.

The index for all items less food and energy rose 2.0 percent over the past year, the smallest 12-month increase since November 2015.

The energy index rose 10.9 percent over the year, while the food index increased 0.5 percent.

An increase in the Consumer Price Index represents an increasing cost of living, which is related to inflation.

The latest reports suggest Fed officials likely won’t raise interest rates when they meet May 2 and 3.

The Fed raised rates by a quarter-point in December and March, and a third rate is likely some time this year.

But officials say they are close to achieving their goals of maximum employment and inflation rising at an annual rate of 2 percent.

The thinking now is they can allow the economy to grow without the need to rush into another rate hike.

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