The following is the full text of the Beige Book released by the Federal Reserve on September 3, 2008 and based on information collected on or before August 25, 2008:
Reports from the twelve Federal Reserve Districts indicate that the pace of economic activity has been slow in most Districts. Many described business conditions as "weak," "soft," or "subdued." Cleveland and St. Louis reported some weakening since their last reports while Boston and New York noted signs of stabilization. Kansas City reported a slight improvement.
Consumer spending was reported to be slow in most Districts, with purchasing concentrated on necessary items and retrenchment in discretionary spending. Districts reporting on auto sales described them as falling or steady at low levels. Tourism activity was mixed but received support from international visitors in several Districts, and the demand for services eased in most Districts. The transportation industry was also adversely affected by rising fuel costs. Manufacturing activity declined in most Districts but improved somewhat in Minneapolis and Kansas City. Most Districts reported that residential real estate markets remained soft. Commercial real estate activity was slow in most Districts, and some reported further slackening in demand for office and retail space. Most Districts reported easing loan demand, especially for residential mortgages and consumer loans; lending to businesses was mixed. Districts reporting on the agricultural sector noted some relief from drought conditions. Districts reporting on energy and mining activity recorded increased activity.
Almost all Districts continued to report price pressures from elevated costs of energy, food, and other commodities, although some noted that there have been declines or slower increases in prices for several industrial commodities and energy products. Business contacts in a number of Districts indicated that they had increased selling prices in response to the high costs for their inputs. Wage pressures were characterized as moderate by most Districts amid a general pullback in hiring, although several Districts noted continued strong demand for workers in the energy sector.
Consumer Spending and Tourism
Consumer spending was slow in most Districts. Retail sales and other consumer spending was reported as mixed or little changed in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas and weak or declining in Philadelphia, Richmond, Minneapolis, and San Francisco. Sales were described as below expectations in Atlanta but on or close to plan in New York. Cleveland and Kansas City noted some improvement in retail sales since the last report. Several Districts reported that consumers were concentrating on food, staples, and other necessary items while reducing spending on discretionary items. Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco reported noticeable declines in spending on apparel, electronics, and jewelry. Sales of furniture and household appliances were weak in most Districts. San Francisco described sales of this merchandise as exceptionally poor. A shift of consumer shopping patterns toward discount stores and lower-price brands and away from traditional department and specialty stores was observed in Philadelphia, Chicago, Dallas, and San Francisco. Sales of motor vehicles were reported to be weak or falling in all Districts, especially for larger, less fuel-efficient cars, SUVs, and trucks.
Tourism activity varied across Districts. Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Kansas City reported mixed or steady conditions since the last report. Boston, New York, and Richmond reported improvement since the last report. San Francisco reported that tourism was flat to down in most major destinations in that District, significantly so in Hawaii. International visitors boosted tourism in Boston, New York, and Minneapolis. In contrast, several Districts noted that domestic vacationers appeared to be reducing miles traveled and amounts spent on trips. Boston reported that business travel has been better than expected.
Districts reporting on nonfinancial services generally indicated some slowing in activity since the last report, although New York reported stabilization after several months of decline. Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas noted falling demand for freight and transportation services, and firms in those industries reported higher fuel costs negatively affecting their margins. Dallas reported that airlines were reducing capacity. Demand for information technology services was reported to be flat in Boston and down in St. Louis. St. Louis and San Francisco noted less strength in the health care sector since the last report. Business and professional services activity was weakening in St. Louis and San Francisco. Dallas reported that business was steady at accounting firms but down at legal firms. Temporary staffing activity was reported to be mixed in Boston and Richmond and stable in Dallas.