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Fed’s Beige Book: “Economic activity was little changed … Residential real estate activity picked up”


Fed’s Beige Book “This report was prepared at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago based on information collected on or before May 22, 2023.”Economic activity was little changed overall in April and early May. Four Districts reported small increases in activity, six no change, and two slight to moderate declines. Expectations for future growth deteriorated a little, though contacts still largely expected a further expansion in activity. Consumer expenditures were steady or higher in most Districts, with many noting growth in spending on leisure and hospitality. Education and healthcare organizations saw steady activity on balance. Manufacturing activity was flat to up in most Districts, and supply chain issues continued to improve. Demand for transportation services was down, especially in trucking, where contacts reported there was a “freight recession.” Residential real estate activity picked up in most Districts despite continued low inventories of homes for sale. Commercial construction and real estate activity decreased overall, with the office segment continuing to be a weak spot. Outlooks for farm income fell in most districts, and energy activity was flat to down amidst lower natural gas prices. Financial conditions were stable or somewhat tighter in most Districts. Contacts in several Districts noted a rise in consumer loan delinquencies, which were returning closer to pre-pandemic levels. High inflation and the end of Covid-19 benefits continued to stress the budgets of low- and moderate-income households, driving increased demand for social services, including food and housing.

Employment increased in most Districts, though at a slower pace than in previous reports. Overall, the labor market continued to be strong, with contacts reporting difficulty finding workers across a wide range of skill levels and industries. That said, contacts across Districts also noted that the labor market had cooled some, highlighting easier hiring in construction, transportation, and finance. Many contacts said they were fully staffed, and some reported they were pausing hiring or reducing headcounts due to weaker actual or prospective demand or to greater uncertainty about the economic outlook. Staffing firms reported slower growth in demand. As in the last report, wages grew modestly.
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