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Fed’s Beige Book: "Economic growth downshifted slightly to a moderate pace"

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by Calculated Risk on 9/08/2021 02:06:00 PM

Fed’s Beige Book “This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York based on information collected on or before August 30, 2021.”

Economic growth downshifted slightly to a moderate pace in early July through August. The stronger sectors of the economy of late included manufacturing, transportation, nonfinancial services, and residential real estate. The deceleration in economic activity was largely attributable to a pullback in dining out, travel, and tourism in most Districts, reflecting safety concerns due to the rise of the Delta variant, and, in a few cases, international travel restrictions. The other sectors of the economy where growth slowed or activity declined were those constrained by supply disruptions and labor shortages, as opposed to softening demand. In particular, weakness in auto sales was widely ascribed to low inventories amidst the ongoing microchip shortage, and restrained home sales activity was attributed to low supply. Growth in non-auto retail sales slowed a bit in some Districts, rising at a modest pace, on balance, across the nation. Residential construction was up slightly, on balance, and nonresidential construction picked up modestly. Trends in loan volumes varied widely across Districts, ranging from down modestly to up strongly. Reports on the agriculture and energy sectors were mixed across Districts but, on balance, positive. Looking ahead, businesses in most Districts remained optimistic about near-term prospects, though there continued to be widespread concern about ongoing supply disruptions and resource shortages.

All Districts continued to report rising employment overall, though the characterization of the pace of job creation ranged from slight to strong. Demand for workers continued to strengthen, but all Districts noted extensive labor shortages that were constraining employment and, in many cases, impeding business activity. Contributing to these shortages were increased turnover, early retirements (especially in health care), childcare needs, challenges in negotiating job offers, and enhanced unemployment benefits. Some Districts noted that return-to-work schedules were pushed back due to the increase in the Delta variant. With persistent and extensive labor shortages, a number of Districts reported an acceleration in wages, and most characterized wage growth as strong–including all of the midwestern and western regions. Several Districts noted particularly brisk wage gains among lower-wage workers. Employers were reported to be using more frequent raises, bonuses, training, and flexible work arrangements to attract and retain workers.
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