Beige Book: Window on Main Street
No Signs of Global Growth Scare Impacting Main Street as Modest to Moderate Economic Growth Continues
The Beige Book is a qualitative assessment of the U.S. economy and each of the 12 Federal Reserve (Fed) districts. We believe the Beige Book is best interpreted quantitatively by measuring how the descriptors change over time. The latest edition of the Fed Beige Book, released last Wednesday, October 15, 2014, ahead of the October 28 – 29, 2014, Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, was timely, given the increasing concerns in global financial markets about a slowdown in global growth. The qualitative inputs for the October 2015 Beige Book were collected through October 6, 2014, and thus captured at least three weeks or so of the elevated market concerns around global growth centered around Europe, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the social unrest in Hong Kong, and the concerns about the spread of Ebola to the United States.
In our view, the latest Beige Book reflected a picture of the U.S. economy that was largely unaffected by any of the concerns noted above, and again described “modest to moderate economic growth (in the U.S. economy) at a pace similar to that noted in the previous Beige Book” (September 3, 2014) and that “employment continued to expand at about the same pace as that reported in the previous Beige Book.” However, as it has over the past year or so, the October 15, 2014, Beige Book noted that “some employers had difficulty finding qualified workers for certain positions” and that some reported “upward wage pressures for particular industries and occupations, such as skilled labor in construction and manufacturing.” In the past, these characterizations of labor markets have been a precursor to more prevalent economy-wide wage increases. In general, optimism regarding the economic outlook far outweighed pessimism, as it has for the past 18 months or so. The “modest to moderate” description of the overall economy has now been used in the last 12 Beige Books and in 13 of the past 14 dating back to March 2013.
To provide a snapshot of the sentiment behind the entire Beige Book collage of data, we created our proprietary Beige Book Barometer (BBB) [Figure 1]. In October, the barometer ticked down to +82, down from a +97 reading in September and the +102 readings seen in both June and July. The +82
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