Most of the twelve Federal Reserve Districts reported that their economies expanded at a modest or moderate pace from mid-October through late November, though both Dallas and Philadelphia noted slower growth compared with the prior Beige Book period. St. Louis and Kansas City noted just slight growth. On balance, consumer spending held steady – District reports on growth of nonauto retail sales appeared somewhat weaker while auto sales tended to improve, particularly for used cars. Tourism reports varied but generally kept pace with the economy. Tariffs remained a concern for manufacturers, but a majority of Districts continued to report moderate growth in the sector. All Districts reported growth in nonfinancial services – ranging from slight to strong. New home construction and existing home sales tended to decline or hold steady, while construction and leasing of nonresidential structures tended to rise or remain flat. Overall, lending volumes grew modestly, although a few Districts noted some slowing. Agricultural conditions and farm incomes were mixed; some Districts noted impacts from excessive rainfall and from tariffs, which have constrained demand. Most energy sectors saw little change or modest growth. Most Districts reported that firms remained positive; however, optimism has waned in some as contacts cited increased uncertainty from impacts of tariffs, rising interest rates, and labor market constraints.
Labor markets tightened further across a broad range of occupations. Over half of the Districts cited firms for which employment, production, and sometimes capacity expansion had been constrained by an inability to attract and retain qualified workers. In fact, several Chicago firms reported that some employees have simply quit – with no notice nor means of contact. Partly as a consequence of labor shortages, most Districts reported that employment growth leaned to the slower side of a modest to moderate pace. Conversely, most Districts reported that wage growth tended to the higher side of a modest to moderate pace. In addition to raising wages, most Districts noted examples of firms enhancing nonwage benefits, including health benefits, profit-sharing, bonuses, and paid vacation days.
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Fed’s Beige Book “This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia based on information collected on or before November 26, 2018.”