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Fed’s Beige Book Paints Shades of Improving Credit Quality

The ""Federal Reserve"":http://www.federalreserve.gov published a new rendition of its popular Beige Book on Wednesday, relaying insight from professionals in the field on regional market conditions.

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A number of Fed districts noted improvements in overall credit quality, specifically Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. The report described the improvement as ""widespread.""

New York was the only district to report rising delinquency rates on consumer loans, but it saw delinquencies decline for commercial loans and mortgages.

""Beige Book findings"":http://www.federalreserve.gov/fomc/beigebook/2011/20110608/FullReport.htm are based on anecdotal commentary and observations collected by the 12 Fed districts from businesses and contacts outside the Federal Reserve. Data included in the latest version covers the reporting period from early April to late May.

The report â€" which the Fed describes as an informal review of current market conditions across the country â€" painted a more subdued picture of economic activity over the eight-week reporting period than it did in the previous version issued in April.

While most of the 12 Federal Reserve districts indicated that economic activity generally continued to expand, several noted some deceleration.

A slower growth pace was reported in the New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Chicago areas. In contrast, Dallas characterized that region's economy as accelerating. Other districts indicated that growth continued at a steady pace.

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In a speech given Tuesday before the Beige Book release, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke commented that overall, the economic recovery appears to be continuing at a “moderate pace,” but at a rate that is both “uneven” and “frustratingly slow.”

Bernanke tagged the “depressed state of housing” as “a big reason that the current recovery is less vigorous than we would like.”

Beige Book findings were in line with his remarks. Based on district reports, residential real estate “continued to show widespread weakness,” the Fed noted, except in the rental segment where conditions have strengthened.

Since early April, the districts of Boston, Philadelphia, Richmond, Atlanta, Kansas City, and San Francisco all report the selling prices of homes have drifted downward. Reports from New York and Cleveland indicate that prices have been steady, on balance. No district indicates an increase in home prices.

Sales activity, though widely reported to be at low levels, picked up somewhat in the Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, and Kansas City districts. Dallas indicated that improved traffic has raised prospects of improved sales in the second half of 2011, and Boston observed signs that the market is stabilizing. Sales activity was characterized as declining in the St. Louis and Minneapolis districts.

A number of districts reported a large overhang of distressed properties.

On the commercial real estate front, markets have generally been “steady” since the last report, though there have been scattered signs of a pickup, the Fed noted.

Commercial leasing markets showed modest signs of improvement in the Richmond and San Francisco districts. Boston and Dallas noted some firming in property sales markets, but Kansas City reported declines in prices for office buildings.

The Fed says contacts in a number of districts expressed a general sense of optimism about the outlook for the commercial real estate sector in the second half of 2011.

Boston noted an improved lending environment for commercial real estate, and demand for commercial mortgages increased in New York and Dallas.

About Author: Carrie Bay

Carrie Bay is a freelance writer for DS News and its sister publication MReport. She served as online editor for DSNews.com from 2008 through 2011. Prior to joining DS News and the Five Star organization, she managed public relations, marketing, and media relations initiatives for several B2B companies in the financial services, technology, and telecommunications industries. She also wrote for retail and nonprofit organizations upon graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in journalism and English.
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