The Federal Reserve and its Chairman have spent a busy day. To wit, after Ben Bernanke earlier today suggested very strongly that the central bank would begin to taper its bond-buying efforts later this year, while also retaining historically low short-term interest rates for the foreseeable future, both of which had been expected, the Fed later issued its Beige Book economic summation.
In that compilation, which will subsequently be used by the bank to formulate monetary policy at its next meeting in late August, the Fed reported generally decent levels of business activity. Specifically, the lead bank essentially intoned that the U.S. economy had grown in most areas of the country from late May through early July, when the survey was taken. In all, according to the survey, 11 of the Fed's 12 Districts reported ''modest to moderate'' growth. The lone exception was the Dallas District, which reported strong economic growth for the second time in as many surveys.
Breaking the report down further, we learned that housing construction and home prices had improved during this time. It should be noted, however, that earlier today, the Commerce Department reported, in a major surprise, that housing starts and building permits had both fallen sharply in June, in a major surprise, with starts off almost 10%.
At the same time, the Beige Book survey noted that consumer spending had increased in most Districts, a development that would seem consistent with recently better retail sales data. According to the Beige Book, the better housing metrics it noted would also seem to be driving increased production of lumber, materials, and construction offerings. The aforementioned data on starts and permits would now seem to put that assumption of a better housing market going forward in some jeopardy--at least in the very short term.
Finally, the Beige Book said that hiring had held steady or increased in most Districts. The strong June payroll report and overall long decline in jobless claims would seem to affirm that indication, as well.
In all, the survey, which is based on anecdotal data from an array of businesses would seem consistent with the majority of reports being issued at this time, and suggests that the economy, which seemed to have slowed in the second quarter, could pick up again in the concluding six months, albeit modestly.
At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.