The following is the full text of the Beige Book released by the Federal Reserve on December 3, 2008 and based on information collected on or before November 24, 2008:
Overall economic activity weakened across all Federal Reserve Districts since the last report. Districts generally reported decreases in retail sales, and vehicle sales were down significantly in most Districts. Tourism spending was subdued in a number of Districts. Reports on the service sector were generally negative. Manufacturing activity declined in most Districts, and new orders were soft. Nearly all Districts reported weak housing markets characterized by reduced selling prices and low, but stable, sales activity. Commercial real estate markets declined in most Districts. Lending contracted, with many Districts reporting reductions in residential, commercial and industrial lending and tightening lending standards. Agricultural conditions were mixed with a relatively good harvest but concerns about profitability. Mining and energy production and exploration started to soften due to lower output prices.
District reports generally described labor market conditions as weakening. Wage pressures were largely subdued. District reports characterized price pressures as easing in light of some decreases in retail prices and declines in input prices, particularly energy, fuel, and many raw materials and food products.
Consumer Spending and Tourism
Consumer spending weakened during the reporting period. Retail sales were described as weak or down in the New York, Cleveland, Richmond, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco Districts. In Kansas City, consumer spending slowed sharply. Recent retail sales were steady compared with early fall but were lower than a year ago in Philadelphia and were mixed in Boston. Some Districts reported decreased purchases of big-ticket items, including furniture, appliances, electronics and luxury items. Discount stores reported stronger sales volumes than department stores. Inventory levels were relatively stable, as many stores anticipated the recent slowdown in sales. District reports indicated that retailers were preparing for a relatively slow holiday sales season. New York noted that this season is likely to feature more price discounting than last year. Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Dallas reported that some retailers have cut back capital expenditure plans for 2009.
District reports indicated that vehicle sales deteriorated since the last report. Sales of more expensive and less fuel efficient vehicles were particularly slow. However, Kansas City noted an increase in demand for used cars. Chicago, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco reported that a number of car buyers had difficulty obtaining financing.
Tourism activity was relatively slow. Fall tourism was down in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City and San Francisco, while tourism conditions were mixed in Richmond. Kansas City and San Francisco reported slower restaurant business. Atlanta noted that business travel was down, while San Francisco reported a rising incidence of canceled corporate meetings in Southern California. In contrast, reservations at a ski resort in the Richmond District were somewhat stronger for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, and some tourism businesses in the Minneapolis District were cautiously optimistic for the winter season in part due to lower gasoline prices.
Activity in the services sector generally contracted in most Districts since the last report. New York, Richmond, Chicago, Minneapolis, Dallas and San Francisco reported deteriorating conditions. Most of these Districts were seeing weakness across a wide range of services, including advertising, architecture, business support, information technology, legal services and temporary help firms. Boston reported mixed conditions for information technology services, ranging from declines of 10 percent to gains of 25 percent. Minneapolis and Dallas reported growing demand for bankruptcy services, and Richmond noted that telecommunications and CPA firms were facing strong demand.
Manufacturing activity declined noticeably since the last report. All 12 Districts reported weaker manufacturing conditions, to varying extents. Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond and Kansas City reported reductions in orders. Almost all Districts noted reductions in exports. Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Chicago and Atlanta reported lower shipping volumes. Dallas reported weakness in most forms of transportation. Nearly every District reported decreased demand for construction materials; Cleveland and Chicago noted, in particular, decreased steel production. Several Districts reported multiple plant shut-downs, and expectations for capital expenditure were down. A few sectors saw increased activity. Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco noted stronger demand for aerospace manufacturers. St. Louis, Dallas and San Francisco reported increases in food processing.