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Fed Paints Picture of Uneven Recovery, Still Hampered by Real Estate

The latest edition of the Federal Reserve's ""Beige Book"":http://www.federalreserve.gov/fomc/beigebook/2010/20100728/default.htm depicts only intermittent, patchy spots of continued economic growth, with residential real estate markets across the country characterized as ""sluggish,"" and commercial real estate conditions garnering a descriptor of ""weak.""


Beige Book findings are based on anecdotal information collected across the country from businesses and contacts outside the Federal Reserve.

Since the central bank's previous ""survey snapshot in early June"":http://dsnews.comarticles/fed-beige-book-points-to-trouble-spots-in-real-estate-2010-06-11, eight of the 12 regional Fed districts reported that economic activity has continued to increase, although most characterized the improvement as ""modest.""

Cleveland and Kansas City reported that the level of economic activity in their districts ""held steady,"" while Atlanta and Chicago said the pace of economic activity ""had slowed recently.""

The overall assessment is considerably more downbeat than the results seen in the June survey, when all 12 districts cited improvements in economic growth. But the latest conclusions support Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's recent position that while economic recovery is still progressing, it has slowed considerably from earlier in the year.


Nearly all districts reported sluggish housing markets in the months since the homebuyer tax credit expired on April 30. While some districts, such as Boston and St. Louis, reported an increase in May and June home sales on a year-over-year basis, contacts there noted that these sales likely reflect closings of homes under contract by the April tax credit deadline. The Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Kansas City districts all reported that they expect home sales to weaken going forward.

Commercial and industrial real estate markets continued to struggle in all 12 districts. According to Beige Book commentary, overall, vacancy rates were flat to slightly higher over the last month, and continued to exert downward pressure on rents. The outlook for the commercial real estate sector across the districts ranged from further declines in activity to slow growth.

Reports on banking conditions were largely mixed. Overall loan demand was reported as soft or weak in Cleveland, Atlanta, and Dallas, while demand for residential mortgage loans eased in Philadelphia but increased in the New York district. Cleveland reported residential mortgage activity below expectations at given rates, and real estate lending declined in St. Louis. Credit was limited for commercial real estate loans in Chicago, and demand fell for these loans in New York and Kansas City.

Most districts reporting on credit standards continued to note that lending standards remain restrictive. Reports on credit quality were mixed in Cleveland and Kansas City, while quality was stable in San Francisco. Credit quality improved slightly in Philadelphia, Richmond, and Chicago.

In the Dallas district, nonperforming loans have stabilized and are not expected to worsen. Meanwhile, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Richmond continued to report delinquencies above historic norms. Delinquency rates in the New York district decreased for consumer loans.