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Fed Beige Book Shows Modest Growth but Weak Real Estate Conditions

The Federal Reserve's popular ""Beige Book"":http://www.federalreserve.gov/fomc/beigebook/2010/20101020/default.htm report released this week suggests economic activity across most of the nation is showing signs of ""modest"" growth, but it's not enough to improve the country's anemic jobs picture with the unemployment rate holding at or above 9.5 percent for more than a year.

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Beige Book findings are based on anecdotal information collected across the country from businesses and contacts outside the Federal Reserve. Data included in the latest report covers the September to early October time period.

Seven of the Fed's 12 districts reported ""moderate improvements"" in economic activity. Three regions -- Philadelphia, Richmond, and Cleveland â€" characterized economic development as ""mixed"" or ""steady,"" while only two regions -- Dallas and Atlanta â€" described activity as ""subdued.""

The most recent results show progress, albeit uneven, compared to the Fed's description of ""widespread deceleration"" in the September Beige Book.

Housing markets remained weak with most districts reporting sales below year-ago levels. The central bank says input it received on home prices, however, suggests stability. Conditions in the commercial real estate sector were soft, while overall lending activity was described as stable in most districts.

Overall home sales were characterized as “sluggish” or “declining” throughout most regional districts. There were scattered reports of some improvement in sales in a few districts, however.

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Philadelphia noted an increase in sales of existing homes, and Richmond, Kansas City, and Dallas reported upticks in sales of higher-priced homes. Sales reports were mixed in the St. Louis and Minneapolis districts, with increases in some metro areas and declines in others. Home inventories were elevated or rising according to most district reports.

The central bank says home prices were generally stable since last month’s Beige Book release, although Kansas City noted a decrease in prices, and New York and Minneapolis reported declines in some metros. Homebuilders in the Atlanta district reported downward price pressure and expressed concern about rising foreclosures and bank-owned properties coming to market.

Conditions in the commercial real estate sector “remained subdued,” according to Fed officials. Reports suggested rental rates continued to decline for most commercial property types. The one exception was the apartment sector, where higher leasing activity led to fewer concessions, most notably in Manhattan. Office, industrial and retail rental markets remained weak, although there were a few reports of slight increases in leasing activity in the Richmond, Chicago, and Dallas districts.

Commercial property sales were low overall, but contacts in Chicago and Dallas said investment demand for distressed commercial properties remained strong. Contacts within the real estate industry appear to believe the commercial real estate and construction sectors will remain weak for some time, according to Beige Book commentary.

Overall lending activity was at low levels across most districts, but that’s consistent with conditions over the past many months and characterized as “stable” by the central bank.

On the consumer side, lending was sluggish, but there were scattered reports of improvement. Residential mortgage lending and refinancing activity increased in several districts, and San Francisco reported an increase in demand for nonconforming mortgage loans.

Credit quality changed little on balance. New York reported a decrease in delinquency rates on consumer loans, however, and overall quality improved in Philadelphia and Richmond.

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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