The Beige Book, which is more formally called the “Summary of Commentary on Current Economic Conditions by the Federal Reserve Districts,” gives us the inside scoop on the Fed’s most recent assessment of the U.S. economy. The information in the report is gathered by surveying the Fed’s 12 districts on consumer spending, hiring, manufacturing activity, housing demand, and other economic conditions.
This report is published eight times a year and is often released prior to the Fed‘s next monetary policy decision. As such, traders pay close attention to its contents since it could contain clues on the central bank’s next monetary policy moves.
But if you didn’t get a chance to read the Fed’s freshly released Beige Book report for November, don’t you worry! I’ve summed it all up into four important points you should take note of:
1. Manufacturing faced headwinds from Hurricane Sandy.
Seven out of the 12 Fed districts reported a downturn in manufacturing activity while a couple of districts said that conditions were mixed. This is a bit surprising since the factory orders report and durable goods orders data released earlier this week came in better than expected for the month of October.
Perhaps the effects of Hurricane Sandy will be reflected starting this November. Five districts even hinted that they expect manufacturing conditions to worsen in 2013 as it could take a long while before they’ll be able to recover from the damage caused by the storm.
2. Fiscal cliff gave Fed officials jitters.
Another reason explaining the downbeat outlook from most of the districts is the looming fiscal cliff. According to the Beige Book report, contacts in a number of districts expressed concern and uncertainty about the federal budget while five districts already blamed the fiscal cliff for the ongoing slowdown.
Bear in mind that the U.S. government is currently under pressure to come up with a plan to manage their tax hikes and spending cuts set to take effect in the coming year. The Beige Book survey revealed that businesses are worried about having to pay higher taxes while consumers are concerned that increased payroll taxes would mean they’d have to cut back on spending.
3. The holiday spirit is finally kicking in.
On a brighter note, it looks like our American buddies sure are doing their holiday shopping early this year! According to the November Beige Book, spirits are up as consumer spending rose in most districts this month.
The best part is that things might even get better this coming month! Shops in New York are expecting sales to pick up as people recover and stock up on goods after Hurricane Sandy. Meanwhile, Boston companies think they’ll see improvements in online sales.
It’s basically just a continuation of what we’ve been seeing over the past months – the uptrend in consumer spending has remained intact. It looks like the U.S. will have a holly jolly Christmas after all, eh?
4. The housing market continues to shine.
Just as consumer spending continued to show improvements, the housing market showed modest progress. Home prices continue to rise and lift consumer spirits, while construction and commercial real estate saw its share of gains.
From here on out, the housing market’s recovery will probably continue, albeit unevenly, if Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is to be believed. Earlier this week, we found out that new home sales fell to an annual rate of 368,000 in October, while September’s figure was revised down from 389,000 to 369,000.
What does this imply about monetary policy?
Basically, the Beige Book tells us the same thing that every analyst out there has been saying – there’s no reason for the Fed to discontinue its $40 billion per-month purchases of mortgage-backed securities at the moment.
Chicago Fed President Charles Evans himself believes that the central bank will probably have to keep pumping money into the economy at a rate of $85 billion a month for the next 6 to 12 months.
Right now, it’s clear that the Fed’s focus is on the labor market, and it won’t stop stimulus until it sees substantial improvements. But judging by recent comments from Fed officials, it seems the job market still has a long way to go, so it looks like we’ll have a lot of time to get used to this period of easy money.